Free exchange: Picking holes in Piketty

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The latest controversy around Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster book concerns its statistics

FEW economics books have been as popular or as controversial as “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. The blockbuster analysis of wealth and income distribution has been a publishing sensation, turning its French author, Thomas Piketty, into a household name. The book’s thesis, that wealth concentrates because the returns to capital are consistently higher than economic growth, has spawned furious debate. Mr Piketty’s preferred remedy (a progressive wealth tax) even more so. But amid the argument most commentators have agreed on one thing: “Capital” is an impressive piece of scholarship.
In recent days that assessment has come into question. A scathing analysis by Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times, claims Mr Piketty’s statistics on wealth distribution are undermined by a series of problems. Some numbers, he says, “appear simply to be constructed out of thin air”. Once …

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