Hockey sticks in economics as well as climate: matters of faith rather than science

It is yet another tome with the aura of science and logic and deep water that can’t suffer any significant examination. Jonah Goldberg takes a look at Mr. Piketty’s Big Book of Marxiness to raise a few questions to examine.

“The radical philosopher Georges Sorel (1847–1922) recognized that Marx’s Das Kapital was next to useless as a work of scientific analysis. That’s why he preferred to look at it as an “apocalyptic text… as a product of the spirit, as an image created for the purpose of molding consciousness.” And for generations of revolutionaries, intellectuals, artists, and activists, it served that purpose well. Marxism lent to its acolytes a certainty they could call “scientific”—an indispensable label amidst a scientific revolution—but, as Sorel understood, that was a kind of psychological marketing, a Platonic “vital lie” or what Sorel called a useful “myth.” Indeed, Lenin’s most significant contribution to Marxism lay in using Sorel’s concept of the myth to galvanize a successful revolutionary political movement.

“Marx tapped into the language and concepts of Darwinian evolution and the Industrial Revolution to give his idea of dialectical materialism a plausibility it didn’t deserve. Similarly, Croly drew from the turn-of-the-century vogue for (heavily German-influenced) social science and the cult of the expert (in Croly’s day “social engineer” wasn’t a pejorative term, but an exciting career). In much the same way, Piketty’s argument taps into the current cultural and intellectual fad for “big data.” The idea that all the answers to all our problems can be solved with enough data is deeply seductive and wildly popular among journalists and intellectuals. (Just consider the popularity of the Freakonomics franchise or the cult-like popularity of the self-taught statistician Nate Silver.) Indeed, Piketty himself insists that what sets his work apart from that of Marx, Ricardo, Keynes, and others is that he has the data to settle questions previous generations of economists could only guess at. Data is the Way and the Light to the eternal verities long entombed in cant ideology and darkness. (This reminds me of the philosopher Eric Voegelin’s quip that, under Marxism, “Christ the Redeemer is replaced by the steam engine as the promise of the realm to come.”)”

Like the global temperature hockey stick predictions, Piketty’s economic doomsaying is also the outcome of statistical manipulation and tortured definitions. Perhaps if he substituted political power for capital he might have something?

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