Thomas Piketty is a world-famous economist. Arvind Subramanian is almost famous. He is the chief economic adviser in the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a man who fills stadiums around the globe and runs an emerging global power. That made Piketty vs. Subramanian a big attraction at the Jaipur Literature Festival in January. Hundreds gathered to hear the two debate the issue of income inequality early on a Saturday morning. It was a confirmation of how the financial crisis and its aftermath has made economics mainstream.
At Jaipur, Piketty introduced the Hindi edition of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which now has been translated into 34 languages since it was first published in French in 2013. Subramanian, a former denizen of the Washington think-tank community, showed no intimidation. He said he found “Capital,” a book that has received numerous distinctions, “mildly irritating.” It was the start of an entertaining debate that continues on the comment pages of India’s English-language newspapers.
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