Wealth Secrets, three years on

“I do not understand what this book is supposed to be,” said the New York Times, in its review. Neither did my publishers, placing a book about income inequality in the self-help section of bookshops. And, to be fair, I was soon at a loss myself, even though I wrote it. I intended the book as satire, which the Telegraph reporter who came to interview me during a layover in Amsterdam clearly understood. But in his writeup of our interview, he decided to play it straight, and the book’s rather shocking suggestions on how to get rich became a series of chatty tips. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” I thought, and on my personal website, I began pitching the book as a series of rags to riches tales. So what was the book supposed to be? Three years on, that is a lot easier to explain, because a lot of very clever people have started to say similar things, more clearly than I did. At the time I wrote Wealth Secrets, most of the talk about income inequality focused on Thomas Piketty’s insights regarding capital accumulation and inherited wealth. But Wealth Secrets was about another source of inequality: what economists call “rent seeking.” Rent seeking is the pursuit of monopoly profits for monopoly’s sake. While most pursuit of profit tends to enhance the wealth of society, rent seeking is unproductive, detracting from economic progress. Wealth Secrets attributed much of the recent growth in inequality in the US and UK to rent seeking, particularly in the financial and technology sectors – and more broadly, argued that many of...