Following in the Master’s Footsteps

Years ago, while studying in Germany, I ran across a reference to some interesting research that had been done by East German scholars.  What they’d done was go to London and try to replicate the research that Marx had done to produce Das Kapital, among his other words.  What they found was that Marx had pretty much gun-decked (as we say in the navy) the whole thing.  Falsified data, misrepresented the contents of sources, and so forth.  It’s stuck in my mind all these years because I couldn’t believe that the East Germans would have let these guys go to London for that purpose in the first place, and secondly that they’d have let the results leak out.

But it was even so.  I can no longer recall where I came across the reference to that research, and being 20 and stupid (and with way too much beer to drink) I was too indolent to go and run it down on my own and see what these scholars had actually reported.  Marx’s little honesty issues aren’t confined to German language reports any more.  Paul Johnson (whose magnificent The Birth of the Modern I’ve re-read probably north of a dozen times since I bought my copy in the summer of 1993) wrote a book, Intellectuals, in which he excoriates a good crop of the leftists’ sacred cows.  It’s been a while since I bought and read my copy (maybe I’ll re-read it, starting this afternoon), but as I recall he outlines not only Marx’s overall fraud, but mentions specific instances of it as well (e.g., Johnson quotes the actual words of sources which Marx intentionally and repeatedly mis-quoted).  And of course the actual behavior of dear ol’ thoroughly-bourgeois Marx to those around him, including the only proletarian that he actually had any meaningful contact with, comes in for some pretty stern treatment.

Suffice it to say that the entire marxist edifice rests on fraud and some pretty basic misunderstanding of the physicalities of producing goods and providing services in any group of people much larger than a stone-age band of hunter-gatherers.

All of which is by way of background to the uproar unfolding around this French marxist and his book.  His name, in case you’ve been in solitary confinement for several months, is Thomas Piketty.  He has written a book, Capital in the 21st Century, in which he concludes that (i) “unequal” concentration of wealth is inherently objectionable, and (ii) it is inherent in the nature of capitalism, as practiced nowadays, to exacerbate the unequal concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest.  In support of that second conclusion he offers a mass of data, graphs, charts, and so forth.  As the left’s favorite mountebank, Paul Krugman, claims, “It’s true that Mr. Piketty and his colleagues have added a great deal of historical depth to our knowledge[.]”  Krugman admonishes us sloped-brow-bitter-gun-clingers, “[I]f you think you’ve found an obvious hole, empirical or logical, in Piketty, you’re very probably wrong. He’s done his homework!”

From Piketty’s conclusions he offers a number of suggestions for how to go about counteracting capitalism’s inherent tendencies towards objectionably disproportionate concentrations of wealth.  I say “disproportionate” because I do not understand that he argues for the complete abolition of capitalism, or (at least not in so many words) the introduction of socialism, which means that he must necessarily be willing to accept some disproportionate concentrations.  So must Krugman, by the way; I’ve yet to hear of his coming out in favor of expropriating George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Laurie David, Algore, or any of the other left-extremist billionaires who back him and his notions.

I’ll leave it to Gentle Reader to plow his way through Piketty’s book.  [Note:  In linking to the page for his book I violate one of my informal little rules on this blog.  Except in the rarest instances I don’t link to books I haven’t read myself.  Something as long as a book is generally too complex and too nuanced to comment about if you’ve not made the effort to read it, so unless I specifically observe otherwise, if you see a link to a book, you can assume I’ve read the thing, and generally more than once (if you would talk to a friend more than once, why wouldn’t you read a book more than once?).]

Piketty’s got only a little problem.  He’s not the only one who has done his homework.  Others have also done his homework, and what they’ve found about his presentation of his research is very much in keeping with the marxist antecedents of his thinking.  It turns out that Piketty’s had his hand in the data jar, and to more than a little extent.

What is it about left-extremists?  Why do they experience this compulsion to make things up?  To borrow a line from Krugman, “Why, it’s almost as if the facts are fundamentally not on their side.”  Projection, anyone?  I’m not foolish enough to come out and say that no author, scholar, or other person on the opposite side from the extreme left has ever fudged the numbers or even made them up wholesale.  But I’m not aware that any of The Giants on the side of human freedom — Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman come to mind — has ever been caught out just cobbling together bullshit out of thin air.  I’m not aware that anyone has revealed fraud from the skeptical side on the scale of the University of East Anglia, which claims to have “lost” its original data, and the e-mails from which include one from the fellow they hired to come in and fix their data.  After something like two-plus years he gave up, and made the statement (to them, by the way, and not publicly) that they had so thoroughly and so irrationally manipulated the data — just adding things and stripping them out, with no reason or pattern — that it was no longer mathematically possible to reproduce what the numbers had originally been.  For a good compendium of articles going all the way back to the original e-mail leak, I strongly recommend a search on Instapundit under “climategate.”  Or how about Marc Bellesiles, whose “research” on gun ownership in early America was so fraudulent that he not only got stripped of his Bancroft Prize, but actually was fired from his tenured faculty gig?  Or how about Steven Leavitt’s slander of John Lott?  Lott, Gentle Reader might recall, was the scholar who published a paper in which he correlated wider private ownership guns and looser personal-carry laws with a drop in violent crime.  Leavitt (most widely known for his Freakonomics) apparently made two claims about Lott: (i) that a specific paper of Lott’s was not peer-reviewed, and (ii) that Lott had hosted a symposium to discuss the issue but had not solicited contrary opinion to participate.  As reported at Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Mr. Lott’s lawsuit alleges that Mr. Levitt defamed him in a 2005 e-mail message to Mr. McCall (who, contrary to what was reported in an earlier version of this blog item, is not the same John McCall who once taught Mr. Lott at the University of California at Los Angeles). In that message, Mr. Levitt criticized Mr. Lott’s work as guest editor of a special 2001 issue of The Journal of Law and Economics that stemmed from a conference on gun issues held in 1999.

The letter of clarification, which was included in today’s filing, offers a doozy of a concession. In his 2005 message, Mr. Levitt told Mr. McCall that ‘it was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal.’ But in his letter of clarification, Mr. Levitt writes: ‘I acknowledge that the articles that were published in the conference issue were reviewed by referees engaged by the editors of the JLE. In fact, I was one of the peer referees.’  Mr. Levitt’s letter also concedes that he had been invited to present a paper at the 1999 conference. (He did not do so.) That admission undermines his e-mail message’s statement that Mr. Lott had ‘put in only work that supported him.'”

You can quibble about the niceties of the second assertion; if only people whose work supported Lott submitted their work, then it would naturally follow that only “work that supported him” got “put in.”  You could make the same statement about a conference on the boiling temperature of water at sea level.  But the first concession?  Why didn’t Leavitt just come out and say, “I am a liar”?  Because that’s what he did; he made a material statement which he knew to be false when he made it; in fact, he had peculiar knowledge of its falseness.

What is it about these people?

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