Private Wealth in a Developing Country: A South African Perspective on Piketty

Working paper 564
Author(s): 
Anna Orthofer
Publication date: 
December, 2015
Classification-JEL: 
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The point of departure of Thomas Piketty’s influential Capital in the Twenty-First Century was the dramatic growth of private wealth-income ratios in the advanced economies between 1970 and 2010. Using official balance sheet data for South Africa—the first country to publish such data in the developing world—, this paper examines to what extent this reemergence of private wealth was also experienced in the developing-country context. First, we find that the South African current wealth-income ratio is very close to its level in 1975 (255 and 240 percent), and thus much lower than those of Piketty’s sample of advanced economies (where they increased from 200-300 to 400-700 percent). Second, we show that the discrepancy is explained not only by South Africa’s relatively low savings rates, but also by the reduction of wealth before and during the transition to democracy in the 1990s. Since the late 1990s, however, private wealth recovered significantly, indicating that South Africa might resemble the advanced economies more closely in the future.

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