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Spring 2015
ISSN 0890-913X
Volume 30, Number 1

Challenging the Empirical Contribution of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Phillip W. Magness, Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University
Robert P. Murphy, Institute for Energy Research
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TheJournalofPrivateEnterprise30(1),2015,134ChallengingtheEmpiricalContributionofThomasPikettysCapitalintheTwenty-FirstCenturyPhillipW.MagnessInstituteforHumaneStudies,GeorgeMasonUniversityRobertP.MurphyInstituteforEnergyResearch______________________________________________________AbstractThomasPikettysCapitalintheTwenty-FirstCenturyhasbeenwidelydebatedontheoreticalgrounds,yetitcontinuestoattractacclaimforitshistoricallyinfuseddataanalysis.Inthisstudy,weconductacloserscrutinyofPikettysempiricsthanhasappearedthusfar,focusinguponhistreatmentoftheUnitedStates.Wefindevidenceofpervasiveerrorsofhistoricalfact,opaquemethodologicalchoices,andthecherry-pickingofsourcestoconstructfavorablepatternsfromambiguousdata.AdditionalevidencesuggeststhatPikettyusedahighlydistortivedataassumptionfromtheSovietUniontoaccentuateoneofhismainhistoricalclaimsaboutglobalcapitalisminthetwentiethcentury.Takentogether,theseproblemssuggestthatPikettyshighlypraisedandhistoricallydrivenempiricalworkmayactuallybeoneofthebooksgreatestweaknesses.______________________________________________________JELCodes:N01,N10,D31,D63Keywords:economichistory,ThomasPiketty,capital,inequalityI.IntroductionThomasPikettysCapitalintheTwenty-FirstCentury(2014b)beginswithaboldclaim.Theensuingwork,hepromises,isbasedonmuchmoreextensivehistoricalandcomparativedatathanwereavailabletopreviousresearchers,datacoveringthreecenturiesandmorethantwentycountries,aswellasanewtheoreticalframeworkthataffordsadeeperunderstandingoftheunderlyingmechanismsofhissubjectmatter(2014b,p.1).Thoughhequalifiesthisassertionwithanacknowledgmentofanimperfectandincompletedataset,thisconcessionshouldnotbemistakenformodesty.AsPiketty1
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