SaveSave story
Thomas Piketty on the Russian kleptocracy
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Russia is widely thought of as an oligarchy run by President Vladimir Putin and a handful of billionaire cronies whose main accomplishment is looking out for their own financial interests. In a new paper, three economists say forensic evidence bears that out.

Economists Thomas Piketty, Filip Novokmet, and Gabriel Zucman found that income inequality is as great in Russia as the United States, with the top 1% of earners garnering upwards of 25% of national income, well above China and other former communist countries like the Czech Republic.

An offshore treasure trove: Piketty and Zucman have studied rising income and wealth inequality all over the world, and what makes Russia unique is how much cash is held offshore. They estimate that nearly $1 trillion in Russian assets is held outside the country, likely by a handful of oligarchs, most of which doesn't show up in official statistics.