Networks Ignore Financial Times’ Criticism of Piketty 'Errors'

French economist Thomas Piketty’s far-left views on wealth and income inequality are beloved ... at least by the liberal media. So it was no surprise that all three broadcast networks skipped criticism of “errors” in his work over the weekend. Some print media outlets also ignored that story.

When his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” rose to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list the media went crazy over the “rock star” economist and his 700-plus page “beach read.” But on May 23, The Financial Times reported that its investigation found his data was “flawed.”

Chris Giles and Ferdinando Giugliano wrote for FT that they found “many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.” FT said the flaws were “sufficiently serious to undermine Prof. Piketty’s claim that the share of wealth owned by the richest in society has been rising and ‘the reason why wealth today is not as unequally distributed as in the past is simply that not enough time has passed since 1945.’”

Going into more detail, FT said there were number of problems including: “simple fat-finger errors of transcription; suboptimal averaging techniques; multiple unexplained adjustments to the numbers; data entries with no sourcing, unexplained use of different time periods and inconsistent uses of source data.”

But ABC, CBS and NBC ignored the news throughout Memorial Day weekend. Previously, CBS “Evening News” bought into Piketty’s radical views on April 27 by repeating his claims and calling it “bad news for the middle class.” His book was also discussed on ABC’s Sunday talk show, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
 
Newspapers also touted the booke earlier this year. The Washington Post called it a “runaway hit” and claimed it “clearly touched a nerve.”

A Nexis search from May 23 through May 27, for prominent newspapers, turned up mentions of FT’s criticism in The New York Times, but not in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post or USA Today.

Multiple New York Times mentions defended Piketty from FT’s criticism. Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution, wrote at The Times’ Upshot blog, “I’m not (yet) convinced by these charges.”

Liberal columnist Paul Krugman also challenged FT’s conclusions, saying “that can’t be right.”

As one of Piketty’s great admirers, of course, Krugman didn’t agree the ramifications of errors and unsourced material undermined Piketty’s central thesis. In the Times’ book review section, he called it a “magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality.” He once called Piketty’s research on inequality “the gold standard.” But if FT was correct, perhaps it was only fool’s gold.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported the FT allegations as well as Piketty’s response that the analysis was “just ridiculous” and “there’s no mistake or error” in his work.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.