Piketty: The Financial Times Is Full of Lies!

A blog about business and economics.
May 27 2014 3:51 PM

Piketty: The Financial Times Is Full of Lies!

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"Come at me, homme." — What Thomas Piketty is undoubtedly saying in this photo.

Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas Piketty is gettin' feisty!

I mean, by economist standards anyway. Today, he hit back at the Financial Times, which last week reported that the data underpinning his best-selling tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was full of flaws and distortions that undercut its thesis. The original article was accompanied by a surprisingly vague statement by Piketty. Now, the Frenchman tells Newsweek there was good reason for the lack of detail: The FT barely gave him any time to respond.

Piketty, who posted his data spreadsheets online for all to see, told Newsweek in an email this morning Giles gave him less than a day to respond to questions about his data and methodology used in his expansive, 696-page book, as well as his voluminous spreadsheet data.
“He didn’t give me proper time to respond (less than 24 hours) and most of all the mail he sent me did not include a large part of the material that they were going to publish,” he said to Newsweek in the email. “I maintain that there’s no error or flaw in my series.”
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Even if the errors are real, Piketty says they're immaterial.

“What’s really dishonest is that the small corrections that they make to my series (and with which I disagree) do not make any difference to the overall evolution and to the overall analysis proposed in the book … and they try to pretend the opposite,” he told Newsweek. “I will update the online technical appendix in order to clarify all of this.”

"Dishonest." I think that qualifies as an escalation from when he told Business Insider's Rob Wile that the FT's criticisms weren't "constructive."

For what it's worth, there are plenty of third parties, on the left and right, who seem to think that the FT has oversold its case as well. The paper claimed to show that wealth inequality wasn't rising across Europe, and that the U.S. trend was harder to discern than Piketty had suggested. This, they said, called into question the core of his book. But the liberal Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal and Scott Winship of the libertarian Manhattan Institute have both noted that rising wealth inequality isn't really central to the economist's argument.* It would likely be one result of the process he talks about, where income from capital takes up a rising share of the economy, but it's not essential to it.

In any event, this has to be the most eagerly awaited technical appendix update of the decade.

*Correction, May 27, 2014: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Scott Winship works for the Cato Institute.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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