France economist Thomas Piketty rejects Legion D'Honneur

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French economist Thomas PikettyImage source, AFP
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Mr Piketty said "it is not the government's role to decide who is honourable"

French economist Thomas Piketty, the best-selling author of Capital in the 21st Century, has turned down France's top award, the Legion D'Honneur.

"I do not think it is the government's role to decide who is honourable", Mr Piketty said.

His book examines income inequality in society and became a surprise hit, topping the bestseller list in the US.

It is rare for anyone to turn down the award, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

But Mr Piketty, who was once close to the Socialist Party but has criticised the government of Francois Hollande, said he was unable to accept the award.

"I have just learned that I was nominated for the Legion D'Honneur. I refuse this nomination because I do not think it is the government's role to decide who is honourable," he told the news agency AFP.

"They would do better to concentrate on reviving [economic] growth in France and Europe."

Capital, a book of almost 600 pages, sold half a million copies in English and was much-debated, particularly in the US.

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Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called it "the most important economics book of the year - and maybe of the decade".

Last year, cartoonist Jacques Tardi also turned down the Legion D'Honneur.

Others to have refused the award include philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and radiology pioneers Pierre and Marie Curie.