The persistent denial of inequality
Published on Jun 3, 2014 1:24 PM
Awhile back, I published an article - The Rich, The Right, And The Facts - in which I described politically motivated efforts to deny the obvious - the sharp rise in US inequality, especially at the very top of the income scale. It probably won't surprise you to hear that I found a lot of statistical malpractice in high places.
Nor will it surprise you to learn that nothing much has changed. Not only do the usual suspects continue to deny the obvious, but they keep rolling out the same discredited arguments: Inequality isn't really rising; OK, it's rising, but it doesn't matter because we have so much social mobility; anyway, it's a good thing, and anyone who suggests that it's a problem is a Marxist. What may surprise you is the year in which I published that article: 1992.
Which brings me to the latest intellectual scuffle, set off by an article by The Financial Times' economics editor Chris Giles attacking the credibility of Mr Thomas Piketty's best-selling Capital In The Twenty-First Century.
Mr Giles claimed Mr Piketty's work made "a series of errors that skew his findings", and that there is, in fact, no clear evidence of rising concentration of wealth. And like just about everyone who has followed such controversies over the years, I thought: "Here we go again." Sure enough, the subsequent discussion has not gone well for Mr Giles. The alleged errors were the kinds of data adjustments normal in any research that relies on various sources. And the crucial assertion that there is no clear trend towards increased concentration of wealth rested on a known fallacy, an apples-to-oranges comparison experts have long warned about - and that I identified in that 1992 article.
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