It was only a matter of time before somebody provided the malefactors of great wealth an excuse to dismiss Thomas Pikettyâ€™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 heâ€™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.)