Data Visualization in Capital in the 21st Century

Noah Wright


This paper examines how data visualization is used to supplement the arguments in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Piketty shows a consistent pattern of modifying his visualizations to provide stronger support for his arguments than his data contains, particularly in his visualizations of the rate of return on capital as it compares to the rate of economic growth, one of the central arguments of the book. This modification takes the form of using disproportionate axis units and the addition of estimated or speculative context. The effect of this modification is to change the fundamental shape of the data trends, which can be clearly seen when proportional axes are used and hypothetical context removed.

Published on 10 Jul 2015 in World Economic Review No 5, July 2015