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  • Picketty’s Introduction

    Posted by TM Lutas on June 9th, 2014 (All posts by )

    Thomas Piketty has written a monster of a book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I find myself in strange agreement with Brad DeLong, that the collective conservative response is weak. I had a patch of time that left me twiddling my thumbs waiting for some pretty long database operations to finish over the past four days. So I went and decided to fisk the book. I just finished the introduction. It took four posts, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and overran the spare time I had available from a database import and indexing task by about 12 hours.

    Now I know why the criticism is so weak. Piketty is a target rich environment and doing a line by line analysis is simply exhausting. But it’s the only way to be sure.

     

    18 Responses to “Picketty’s Introduction”

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I do not have a sufficient level of interest to read the the book. I have read many of the reviews. From the reviews, I think the book is a real problem to critique because the he does not make explicit his theoretical model of the economy. Further he does not make explicit the distinction between properties that are factors of production — e.g. machinery and equipment, and the accounting and investment abstractions that are balance sheet capital (assets minus debts) and investment securities such as corporation shares. Nor does he treat depreciation as an expense that has both real world and accounting aspects. Finally, he seems to fall into the trap of reification of economy level data without considering the real world of living individual human beings.

    2. PenGun Says:

      Oh my. Fisking a book, what has the world come to?

      You could read it and give us a review perhaps but that would take work. You can just cruise for talking points this way. Suits your level of discourse much better.

      Looks to be a very good book, who knows, I might even read it.

    3. Dr. Weevil Says:

      Which is worse? Fisking, rather than reviewing, a book you’re actually reading? or sneering at the fiskings without offering any evidence of having read a word of them or the book they fisk? Criticizing a book you are reading very carefully but haven’t finished yet? or asserting that it “Looks to be a very good book”, when you haven’t read a page of it?

      And what’s the big difference between fisking and reviewing? As far as I can tell, the difference is that ‘fisking’ means you publish your thoughts as you are reading, without waiting until you get to the end. This may be more honest, and is definitely more transparent, than waiting until you get to the end to summarize your thoughts on the subject.

      One more thing: it’s impossible to say that a book is excellent before you finish it, because it may fall apart at the end. But it’s quite possible to say that a book is a bad book before finishing it, if the parts you have read are in fact bad in any significant way. A good ending won’t make a bad book good – at best it may make it not entirely useless.

    4. Tom Jackson Says:

      PenGun appears to be a loyal Party member, Piketty is a Marxist, hence a genius, and Pen can start expressing his lefty philosophy in grunts, “Left good! capitalism BAD! Koch Brothers! RACISS!!!”

    5. pst314 Says:

      “Piketty is a target rich environment and doing a line by line analysis is simply exhausting. But it’s the only way to be sure.”

      Think of fisking as explication de texte? :-)

    6. TimL Says:

      This seems to me to be definitive. Picketty is at odds with the standard growth models and the way they view capital. There have been attempts to overlook this but they seem weak to me.

      http://www.voxeu.org/article/piketty-s-second-law-capitalism-vs-standard-macro-theory

    7. dearieme Says:

      As I understand it there’s nothing wrong with his book except that his data are rubbish and his theory woeful.

    8. TM Lutas Says:

      Dr Weevil – I think PenGun’s still a bit uncomfortable about a couple of our recent exchanges where he reflexively ended up defending infanticide and high food prices. He’ll settle down in time. Or maybe he’ll go away. I’ve given up confident predictions about his future behavior.

      PenGun – The cross thread references to your infanticide defense go away when you actually, you know, stop defending infanticide. You never withdrew your position on Gosnell when you were mocking those documentary makers.

      Dearieme – I think that it’s a bit more complex than his data are rubbish. I think that he might have spotted some real things but that confirmation bias kicked in with his data regarding the UK. The FT reanalysis *is* pretty close in the two cases of France and Sweden Piketty claims. I don’t believe the FT has subsequently disputed that.

      I have a working theory that there is a smaller phenomenon that is leading to the inequality results in those countries (and perhaps more) that is more consistent with Piketty’s theory but that something Piketty does not account for in his theory changes in the case of the US and UK (and perhaps other countries as well). The US is neatly dispatched in the introduction as a priori an unrepresentative outlier that has no global implications but if the UK agrees with the US then the outlier theory goes away and Piketty is left with a scenario that fits some countries and not others and a need for the missing factor that breaks countries into multiple camps.

    9. Xennady Says:

      Or maybe Piketty is just another shameless liar, looking to prove something he just knows in his heart of hearts is the bestest truest truth, so he just makes up the numbers he needs to “prove” his faith.

      I remember Michael Bellesiles, who made up an entire book claiming guns had nothing to do with America, until crazy gun-nuts went wild. The left loved him, until amateur historian and glorious patriot Clayton Cramer proved that he was a shameless liar.

      Also the nuclear winter scheme, which I recall reading about in Scientific American circa 1985. The point was that nuclear war was such a terrible thing that the US needed to unilaterally disarm immediately, or else disaster!! Then, the USSR collapsed, the Gulf War proved that the predictions of the theory were nonsense, and I assume the Soviet money funding it dried up. So no more was heard of it.

      The entire global warming scam is similar, on a much vaster scale, but with ample money for propaganda provided by Western leftist-dominated governments.

      Experience has convinced me that when a leftist claims anything, anything at all- even something so simple and obvious as what time the sun rises at a given location- they are lying about it. The reason why may not be readily apparent, may not even make sense, but they are lying.

      Lying. It’s just what they do.

    10. Gringo Says:

      TM Lutas
      PenGun – The cross thread references to your infanticide defense go away when you actually, you know, stop defending infanticide. You never withdrew your position on Gosnell when you were mocking those documentary make.

      I have looked for the link, but have not been able to find. Please provide.

    11. MikeK Says:

      “it’s quite possible to say that a book is a bad book before finishing it”

      I had this reaction to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book “Bully Pulpit.” I liked “Team of Rivals” and was prepared to like this one as I am a fan of Teddy Roosevelt (with reservations) and knew little about Taft. Unfortunately, her socialist sympathies marred the book so badly that I have put it down and wrote a review on Amazon about it. I was interested to see the new issue of Claremont Review of Books arrive and it included a good takedown of her book that is even more harsh than my own. I guess I’m in good company. I would link to the review but it doesn’t allow it.

      I can’t work up any interest in Picketty so I’m glad others will read it and I don’t have to.

    12. PenGun Says:

      TM Lutas
      PenGun – The cross thread references to your infanticide defense go away when you actually, you know, stop defending infanticide. You never withdrew your position on Gosnell when you were mocking those documentary make.

      I have looked for the link, but have not been able to find. Please provide.

      Yeah show em’.

    13. dearieme Says:

      “Or maybe Piketty is just another shameless liar”: that seems unlikely; he seems to have been pretty good at making his data and his spreadsheets available – unlike those professional liars, the “Climate Scientists”.

    14. TM Lutas Says:

      PenGun – All you had to do was go to my blog and type Gosnell into the search box at top left. Only two posts kick up, both of them relevant. Here they are in order:

      Tech Crassness
      http://flit-tm.blogspot.com/2014/04/tech-crassness.html
      America’s Biggest Serial Killer
      http://flit-tm.blogspot.com/2014/05/americas-biggest-serial-killer.html

      Your snark at my celebrating a fivefold increase in the Pacific NW salmon run was between the two
      Multiplying fishes
      http://flit-tm.blogspot.com/2014/04/multiplying-fishes.html

      To be fair, I actually had to do a real search to find that one.

    15. Anonymous Says:

      Thank you for the links.

    16. Gringo Says:

      Thank you for the links. I had assumed that TM Lutas’s blog was citizenintelligence, which is the link for TM Lutas.

    17. Xennady Says:

      “Or maybe Piketty is just another shameless liar”: that seems unlikely; he seems to have been pretty good at making his data and his spreadsheets available – unlike those professional liars, the “Climate Scientists”.

      You may be right.

      But my guess is that since he so readily makes his spreadsheets available the fraud is elsewhere, or perhaps he assumes no one will bother to check his data.

    18. TM Lutas Says:

      Gringo – Citizenintelligence is my business blog and is of fairly recent vintage. Flit-TM is where my personal/political stuff goes, has two incarnations, and dates back to July of 2003. Neither of the two are particularly high traffic affairs.