The economist’s book caused a sensation last year, but now he says the redistributionists drew the wrong conclusions.

Now in an extraordinary about-face, Mr. Piketty has backtracked, undermining the policy prescriptions many have based on his conclusions. In “About Capital in the 21st Century,” slated for May publication in the American Economic Review but already available online, Mr. Piketty writes that far too much has been read into his thesis.
“I do not view r>g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century,” he writes, “or for forecasting the path of inequality in the 21st century.”
When he narrows his focus to what he calls “labor income inequality”—the difference in compensation between front-line workers and CEOs—Mr. Piketty consigns his famous formula to irrelevance. “In addition, I certainly do not believe that r>g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income: other mechanisms and policies are much more relevant here, e.g. supply and demand of skills and education.” He correctly distinguishes between income and wealth, and he takes a long historic perspective: “Wealth inequality is currently much less extreme than a century ago.”
All of this takes the wind out of enraptured progressives’ interpretation of Mr. Piketty’s book, which embraced the r>g formulation as relevant to debates playing out in Congress.
After an extensive review, Chris Giles, the economics editor of the Financial Times, concluded in May last year that “Two of Capital in the 21st Century’s central findings—that wealth inequality has begun to rise over the past 30 years and that the U.S. obviously has a more unequal distribution of wealth than Europe—no longer seem to hold.”
Mr. Piketty is willing to stand up and say that the material in his book does not support all the uses to which it has been put, that “Capital in the 21st Century” is primarily a work of history. That is certainly admirable. Now it is time for those who cry that we are heading into a new gilded age to follow his lead.