"People say that reducing inequality is radical. I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical," Mr. Piketty said, with a degree of wonder. "The United States is getting accustomed to a completely crazy level of inequality."
The United States is becoming like the Old Europe of Royalty and Monarchies from which our nation first developed. ´The United States is becoming like Old Europe, which is very strange in historical perspective," Mr. Piketty said. "The United States used to be very egalitarian, not just in spirit but in actuality. Inequality of wealth and income used to be much larger in France. And very high taxes on the very rich — that was invented in the United States," he said.
"The debate in Washington is between the Bush-era and Clinton-era tax rates," said Mr. Diamond, whom Mr. Obama nominated to the Federal Reserve and Republicans blocked. "Our finding is that the debate should be between the pre-1986 Reagan tax rate, which was 50 percent, and the rates that existed from Johnson until Reagan," which were higher.
"Thirty percent is three times smaller than the 91 percent of Roosevelt," Mr. Piketty said, responding to the Buffett Rule proposal and referring to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who engineered the New Deal. "And inequality is greater than in the time of Roosevelt."
Mr. Saez, 39, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has won the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, as well as a MacArthur Fellowship grant. Mr. Piketty, 40, of the Paris School of Economics, has won Le Monde's prize for best young economist, among other awards.
Both admire, even adore, the United States, they say, for its entrepreneurial drive, innovative spirit and, not least, its academic excellence: the two met while re-searchers in Cambridge, Mass. But both also express bewilderment over the current conversation about whether the wealthy, who have taken most of America's income gains over the last 30 years, should be paying higher taxes.