France's Piketty bashes billionaires in new 1,200-page book

Billionaires beware: French economist Thomas Piketty is urging countries to hike death taxes to ensure concentrations of wealth don't endure

Reform or face ruin: the surprise literary sensation of 2013, French economist Thomas Piketty, returned with another doorstep-size book on Thursday that warns darkly about the excesses of global capitalism.

"In this book, I try hard to show how big ideological changes have happened at several times in our history," he told AFP in an interview this week, saying that inequality would eventually undermine the current economic system.

Piketty's fame stems from his hit book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century", which turned him into one of a handful of so-called "rock star" economists globally and a policy advisor to leftwing politicians in Europe and the US.

His follow-up work, the 1,200-page "Capital and Ideology", is intended to demolish the idea that the concentration of wealth in the hands of the super-rich is good for humanity, and he suggests a host of ideas to bring the billionaire class to heel.

These include raising death taxes up to 90 percent for the richest individuals, as well as giving large one-off handouts of public money to people at the age of 25 to allow them to buy property or invest.

He suggests these handouts should be 25 percent of the average amount of wealth per capita, meaning they would be in excess of 100,000 euros ($110,000) in developed countries.

The book hit French bookshelves on Thursday and will be translated into 18 languages, with an English version scheduled for March.

"The good news is that all unequal political systems end up transforming themselves," Piketty told AFP. "Often it's at times of crisis that are more violent than we would like."

"I would like it to happen peacefully, with democratic deliberation and elections," he added.

- Global view -

Critics of Piketty say his prescriptions would reduce incentives to work and lead to massive tax evasion by the rich.

They also point to unprecedented reductions in extreme poverty worldwide in recent decades, which has occurred at the same time as wealth has concentrated in the hands of the super-rich.

The surprise bestseller "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" was a weighty analysis of how the industrial revolution had led to wealth building up in the hands of a small number of rich families in the 18th century.

This was disrupted by the First World War, the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, with Piketty arguing that wealth was now returning to destabilising levels.

The book has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide.

In his new release, he is scathing about the impact of free-market economic policies championed after the end of the Cold War, in particular by US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He also devotes time to analysing Chinese capitalism -- "close to a form of plutocracy" -- and Russia, which he calls "the country of oligarch and kleptocracy".

"At the dawn of the 2020s, we can see the limits of very unequal globalisation that is questioned by many people and which feeds identity politics, which is extremely dangerous," he told AFP.

The 48-year-old economist has been a vocal critic of French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he has slammed for cutting taxes for the wealthy and investors since coming to power in 2017.