Thomas Piketty. Image: Wikimedia Commons CC-by2.0
Thomas Piketty. Image: Wikimedia Commons CC-by2.0

It’s not every day that the prestigious Brookings Institute commissions a paper based on a blog comment, but that’s exactly what happened to MIT graduate student Matthew Rognlie.

Last year, Rognlie, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Economics, read French economist Thomas Piketty‘s bestselling book on wealth inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In the book, Piketty posits that income inequality is advancing faster than the rate of economic growth and will worsen without intervention. To counteract this problem, the economist suggests redistributing wealth through a progressive global tax.

Rognlie felt that Piketty’s argument had missed an important point, and said so in a comment he wrote on the economics blog Marginal Revolution. His comment garnered widespread attention in the economics community, and led to Rognlie expanding his thoughts into a 23-page paper that he posted online.

In his paper, Rognlie argues that Piketty did not properly account for the effects of depreciation. According to Rognlie’s model, the increase in capital came from real estate—a sector that’s unlikely to drive inequality in the way Piketty claims—and wealth inequality will naturally slow itself down over time.

It wasn’t long before the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization, invited Rognlie to present his paper as part of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) spring conference. According to the Washington Post, Rognlie is the first doctoral student to present a sole-authored paper at the BPEA since 1979. Leading the discussion on Rognlie’s paper? Nobel Prize–winning economist and MIT professor Robert Solow.

Read Rognlie’s paper, “Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share.”

Learn more about Rognlie’s path from blog to Brookings (and Piketty’s response).

Browse all papers from the 2015 conference.

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