I’m being cheeky in the title, but my irritation is real. Both ideological friends and foes have been chiding me for (in my paper co-authored with Phil Magness) focusing on trivial details, like Piketty getting the dates wrong for tax hikes and minimum wage increases. Big deal, Murphy! Focus on the inequality data.
But Phil and I couldn’t ignore the boneheaded mistakes. Chris Giles of the FT did exactly what my critics are suggesting, and he was in the news for a week. Then Piketty responded (quite inadequately), Piketty’s fans said, “Heh what tools, leave the data to the grownups, kids,” and now progressive bloggers smirk at you if you bring up Giles.
And that is understandable. Giles was a writer for a newspaper, whereas Piketty is an expert in this literature–a guy whom Larry Summers said should get a Nobel for the empirical work. Without taking 2 months to read up on the literature yourself, how could you possibly weigh in on this matter?
So that’s why it’s so important for Phil and me to show you just how unbelievably sloppy Piketty was when it came to things that a high school student should get right in a term paper, and then to see him dismiss them as “typos.”
So then, with that as background, when Phil and I show you that Piketty on some of his Excel cells just adds a number one year, then subtracts it away, with no apparent justification, you don’t just say, “Well, I’m sure the guy has a good reason for doing that.” No, because this is the same guy who just made up an alternate universe of the minimum wage, and then didn’t seem very fazed about it. (Note in his response to FoxNews, he used “etc” to refer to his systematic distortion of the minimum wage history.)
Anyway, frequent commentator (who is always earnest when he often criticizes me) Keshav Srinivasan just wrote the most astounding defense of Piketty yet:
By the way, concerning the FDR and Hoover stuff, I think you’re too quick to assume malice when carelessness is more likely. It’s more plausible that Piketty simply assumed that Hoover must have been the one who cut taxes because he was a Republican, rather than Piketty deliberately falsifying the history in order to make Republicans look bad. (That’s why he called them “typos”, because they were unintentional errors.) Isn’t it best to be charitable to your opponents’ motives?
We’re not talking about an appearance on the Daily Show, we’re talking about a published book, and moreover a book that is being lauded for its contribution to the historical record. I don’t know what to say at this point. I can’t believe I am being put on the defensive when Piketty is the guy who made up a bunch of “facts.”