Lionel Barber openly dismisses his own journalism

From the Financial Times today, on the occasion of awarding a prize named after his paper (“FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award”) to the book “Capital in the 21st century” by Thomas Piketty:

“While not everyone agreed on the policy prescriptions, we recognised the quality of the scholarship,” Mr Barber said on behalf of the judges. He called it “a challenging, but ultimately important book”.

Here is Chris Giles and Ferdinando Giugliano writing back in May:

An investigation by the Financial Times, however, has revealed many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.

These are 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”.

After referring back to the original data sources, the investigation found numerous mistakes in Prof Piketty’s work: 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.

What possible reason would an editor have to contradict his own journalism so thoroughly?

Check your premises Mr Barber. A book is not worthy of a gong just because it is “important” (code for, he likes it) the usual definition of a good book – the one your audience will expect you to apply – is that it should be true.

The fact that Chris Giles is economics editor, no less, means Lionel would be aware that the book has issues, and that there is a cost to him personally in giving it the prize. Lionel must have really liked it.

 

LATER: Chris Giles actually spoke about Piketty at a Policy Exchange event prior to the announcement. The audio went up yesterday (very good timing Policy Exchange).

Top Quote: “I don’t think this is a very truthful book”. Wow.

4 Comments

  1. The economic theory in “Capital” is false (refuted more than a century ago – the fallacies of David Ricardo, Karl Marx and others) and the “data” in the books contained many falsehoods (lies). One might as well the “scholarship” of Karl Marx’s “Capital” (not scholarship at all) whilst covering one’s self by pretending to dissent from the collectivist politics). The one major unnatural (unjust) cause of increasing inequality (the expansion of credit money by government backed Central Banks, rather than lending being based upon REAL SAVINGS) is hardly touched upon in the book – even though the effects of monetary expansion (rather than funding all lending by real savings) in increasing inequality was exposed by Richard Cantillon as far back as the 1700s

    Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” is no more a work of “scholarship” than “Revolution” by Russell Brand is. Or than Hillary Mantel’s book of short stories “The Assignation of Margaret Thatcher” which ends with readers being told to “fucking rejoice” at the murder of Margaret Thatcher is a “work of scholarship”.

    I have already written to Simon (and others) giving my view of the motives behind the awarding of this prize. I am quite happy for my e.mail to be made public – I am too old to care about being considered “Mr Paranoid” or “Mr Nasty”.

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    1. I don’t have to quote any controversial remarks, Paul. We basically agree, in direction if not scale. There is something deeper at work motivating a *business newspaper* to award prizes to books that help to demonise their own readers. Recognising good scholarship is not the issue, the prize recognises a book they were glad was written.

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