The Campaign to Discredit Piketty

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Obama Administration

It was only a matter of time before somebody provided the malefactors of great wealth an excuse to dismiss Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Chris Giles of the Financial Times accepted the contract and dutifully cranked out an analysis that cast doubt on Piketty’s entire book, including his premise about rising income inequality. It was all just a math error. Nothing to see here. Move along.

How serious are these charges? It appears there are some data errors, but it also appears that for the most part they don’t make a whole lot of difference, with the exception of the data on Britain. There is a data gap in Piketty’s analysis of the U.S. that other people had already noted, but other economists who have looked at all the data on the U.S. say that the inequality is even worse than Piketty says it is. Krugman says that the data on the U.S. show an unmistakable pattern of inequality even without Piketty’s data. Giles may indeed have found some errors, Krugman says, “but The point is that Giles is proving too much; if his attempted reworking of Piketty leads to the conclusion that nothing has happened to wealth inequality, what that really shows is that he’s doing something wrong.”

See also Justin Wolfers, “A New Critique of Piketty Has Its Own Shortcomings.”

Picketty’s alleged errors (which do not all appear to be errors, exactly), are being compared to the Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff paper on government debt and growth, in which the authors’ findings were based entirely on data entry errors. In Picketty’s case, however, it’s not so clear that corrected data would change the picture, and there are other studies by other economists that come to the same conclusions.

However, as we know, the Right only needs one tiny and inconsequential flaw to discredit the entire book at “debunked.” It’s what they do with climate change and evolution; if they can find any part of theory that isn’t “settled” they feel they can ignore science entirely. (However, I don’t think science is ever settled.)

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  1. c u n d gulag  •  May 24, 2014 @1:17 pm

    “However, as we know, the Right only needs one tiny and inconsequential flaw to discredit the entire book at ‘debunked.’”

    That’s because Reich-Wingers are Manichean absolutist fools – usually because they’re religious – or, faking it for power and profit. And it doesn’t have to be just Christians – there are absolutists in almost all, if not all, faiths.

    Everything has to be purely “Good!” Or purely “Evil!”
    Everything in the world is then categorized into “Good = Godly = Pure White” and “Evil = Satan = Pure Black.”
    So, there can be NO gray areas!
    Because once you introduce however much black to make whatever shade of gray you have, then you’ve tainted “Pure Good” with some degree of “Pure Evil.”

    So, where most “normal” people see the world in various shades of gray, the Manicheans, see various levels of “Evil.”

    And so, any tiny imperfection, is and indication of evil.

    The good, the bad, and the ugly of Christianity can be found in Luke: 6:41–42: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_(King_James)/Luke#6:41

    And also Matthew 7:3–5: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_(King_James)/Matthew#7:3

    Amidst a lot of really peaceful, loving, kind, compassionate, inclusive words by Christ, are also these bad and ugly ones:
    -Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
    -A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
    -Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
    -Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    This is what – imo – is the root of the problem we have with our Manichean Christians. They forget the good stuff, and focus on the above.

    Oh, and here, btw, is some of the good stuff:
    -Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    -For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    -And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    -Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
    -Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

    Too many of our modern day Christians forget the “Judge not, that ye be not judged” part.

  2. goatherd  •  May 24, 2014 @1:52 pm

    Maybe we all have a weakness for the “fallacy of composition.” But, our friends on the right have it stitched into their DNA, along with the drive to latch on to every scrap of comforting misinformation until the grim reaper pries it from their cold dead brains.

    “Debunked,” especially when paired with its adverbial companion, “totally,” is one of those words that flips a switch in my mind, when ever I see it, at least as it passes me on the information superhighway. It, along with some other phrases, warns me that the writer is searching for a level of certainty and security that are exceedingly rare in the real world.

  3. moonbat  •  May 24, 2014 @2:04 pm

    The wingnut mind is looking for absolute proof, not because it wants certainty in the world – which it would like – but because it cannot ever be shown to be wrong. Being proven wrong undermines the whole wingnut self-righteous act, which they absolutely cherish and are lost without. You take this from them, and you have made a major enemy.

    This requirement for absolute proof isn’t how much of science works. Science works a lot with theories that are either debunked or at best, they have a lot of evidence behind them. In arguing with wingnuts about climate change, I often remind them, that we don’t know with absolute certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, but we have a lot of evidence that suggests it is likely to do so. “The sun rising tomorrow” is at best a theory with a mountain of evidence behind it. Falls on deaf ears. They still insist on the impossible, absolute proof in other domains, such as climate change.

  4. Doug  •  May 24, 2014 @8:48 pm

    If rejection is a legitimate excuse for mass murder, then with decades of rejection to bolster my resentment, I’m entitled to a nuclear weapon – at the very least.

  5. Steve J.  •  May 25, 2014 @12:09 am

    Fats Limbaugh attacked Piketty a few weeks ago by calling him a “Communist punk.”

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