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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Piketty footnote

Looks like I just squeezed in my rather thin thoughts about the Piketty affair yesterday  before he delivered  his 10 page reply to Chris Giles. The reply looks pretty cogent to me. 

The bottom line is that we are in the realm of estimation, ie trying to figure out what the whole looks like even though we can only see part of it. Inevitably this requires the exercise of judgment and reasonable people can give different weight to different parts of the judgment process. But that doesn't mean that we are free to believe whatever we like unconstrained by any evidence or that we shouldn't believe anything until we observe the whole. We are never going to have perfect data and if we have to suspend our beliefs about everything we aren't perfectly informed about then the world will be a very quiet place.

There seems to be a swell of opinion suggesting that Giles did something wrong. I don't see it quite like that myself. He was simply doing his job as an economic journalist. After all Capital in the Twenty First Century is a big news story and Piketty made his data available precisely to facilitate the sort of scrutiny that Giles subjected it to. It wasn't his fault that the FT bigged it up to a front page story (and a whole inside page). That was an editorial decision, as presumably was the ambuscade style way in which Piketty was alerted to the coming onslaught.

I must confess though to feeling a bit disappointed by the FT. By default it's become just about the only serious daily broadsheet in the UK that even pretends to hold a non-partisan position. When I want my  heart nudged back into the correct position I read the Guardian. When I want to find out what is going on in the world I read the FT. The editor made a bad call on this one. I think Giles acted in good faith, but the test will be whether he has the good manners, and the balls, to acknowledge that he got some things wrong.

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