Here is Brett on Piketty:
I’m surprised to see so few critiques of Piketty on the grounds that higher wealth and income inequality won’t necessarily lead to oligarchical politics and the capture of the economy by rentiers. I’m a bit skeptical myself of his interpretation of 19th century politics – at the same time we had the Belle Epoque, there was increasing working class political power in the UK (particularly with reforms in the 1830s and 1860s), the lead-up to the near-complete loss of political power in the House of Lords in 1911, the rise of income taxes in both the UK and France, greater social mobility, broader modernization and consumer culture, and so forth. You see some pushback from Larry Bartels and the like pointing to research showing policymaking following the preferences of the rich and organized, but they don’t provide much information about whether this has changed with increasing income and wealth inequality – the rich and organized interest groups may have just always had a disproportionate interest on policymaking, even during the Postwar Period.
If Piketty’s story about slow growth leading inevitably to rising inequality and the power of the rich is true, then we expect that inequality would have risen sharply during the 19th century when growth in industrialised economies was less than 1 per cent per year. In fact the longstanding research of Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson on English inequality (which Piketty, incredibly, fails to cite) finds inequality was fairly constant, albeit high, until about 1870, and then appears to have fallen somewhat until 1913.