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Piketty thinks South Africa needs to redistribute land. Democracies can’t do that. Dictators can.

Author: Michael Albertus

Despite two decades of rule by the African National Congress (ANC), income inequality in South Africa is sky-high. Indeed, it is higher now than it was at the end of apartheid. Blacks make up 80 percent of the population, but according to census data they earn one-sixth of what white citizens earn on average.

Two weeks ago, Thomas Piketty, the French economist renowned for his pathbreaking book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” visited Johannesburg to give the 13th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. He explained South Africa’s persistent inequality by pointing to the fact that it had never undertaken large-scale land redistribution. In much of Europe and East Asia, he said, forcible land redistribution had opened the way for greater equity and economic development—adding that South Africa has never done so.

My research shows that Piketty is right. The redistribution of land has launched economic growth in many – though hardly all – countries where it has been implemented. It has also dramatically reduced inequality in countries where it has been carried out at a large scale.

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