What happens when it’s all based on lies?
May 23, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Lies have cost me almost everything, as I document in Ghosts and Ballyhoo. Why do people lie to create outrages that don’t exist? Let’s say you passionately believe that the world is getting worse. What happens when it’s all based on lies?
My next novel is about titanic, unfathomable lies. I need help in grasping why people lie. Sure, people lie in order to gain something; Fatty McQuartermillion Pounder, for example.
He wishes he could’ve been a real US Marine, so he impersonates one. But why do people lie to make others believe that the human species sucks?
It turns out that French “rock star” economist Thomas Picketty cooked the numbers for his bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Picketty says that income inequality is going off the scale, so he wants a global wealth tax. But his figures are all wrong.
The data underpinning Professor Piketty’s 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT [Financial Times] found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The central theme of Prof Piketty’s work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.
For example, once the FT cleaned up and simplified the data, the European numbers do not show any tendency towards rising wealth inequality after 1970. An independent specialist in measuring inequality shared the FT’s concerns.
I find it impossible to believe that Picketty accidentally screwed up his data, so I’m going to assume that he lied. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt—for pretend—and say that he’s honestly tortured by income inequality. It keeps him up at night, when he isn’t sleeping off all the wine he drank after his speaking engagement, for which he was paid six figures.
So Tortured Thomas does research and finds out that income equality isn’t rising at a rate we haven’t seen since forever. If he honestly cares about his fellow humans, wouldn’t this be cause for celebration?
Apparently not, because Picketty simply changed the numbers so that they’d comport with his idée fixe, that income inequality is getting insanely out of balance.
Whenever someone tells me something horrible that depresses them, and I show them that it isn’t true, they react with hostility. It’s 100 percent consistent. I’ve never once had a person say, “You mean things aren’t as bad as I thought? Oh my God, thank you! That’s such a relief!”
Instead, they generally insult me. Tell people that the world isn’t going to end because of climate change, and they call you anti-science, stupid, uninformed, and—best of all—a “denier.”
That always makes me think of Stephen Jay’s great song “Deny the Accuser.”
Violent crimes and property crimes continue to decline in the US. In fact the violent crime rate today is half of what it was in 1993. When I tell that to people who call the US the most violent nation on earth, they get angry at me. Honduras is the most violent nation on earth. How many Americans and Europeans know that?
The World Bank says we can eliminate extreme poverty by about 2030. Think about that. I’m old enough to remember all those worthless concerts that raised money for food that rotted on the docks. If I’d told people back then that we could eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, they would’ve laughed at me.
Transnational war has already been eliminated. Economic interdependence, the spread of democracy, and social media have made nation-to-nation war obsolete. It’s impossible to censor the brutality of war. The soldiers themselves now all have cellphones with cameras. I study World War One; the amount of actual combat photos and film is tiny. For one thing, soldiers weren’t permitted to take cameras into battle.
Here’s an actual combat photo taken during World War One.
It shows men of German Grenadier Regiment No. 110 about to launch a counterattack in 1917. This was called “elastic defense”: You retreated, letting the enemy come really far into your territory, and then you attacked him from both sides, bouncing him out. These soldiers have stripped off all their gear except for soft caps, gas masks, rifles, and hand grenades. They have to move fast, so they can’t be encumbered.
Images like that simply don’t exist in large numbers. However, just go to YouTube and put in “Afghanistan firefight” and you’ll be overwhelmed with videos. The more publicity war gets, the less likely it is to happen. Lots of deeply silly people think that Americans in particular think of war as entertainment. If so, how come we aren’t seeing more wars, since now we have so many entertainment hours to fill?
The answer is that the world is becoming a nicer place.
A handful of you know my full story. You know what resides in me. Some of you have asked why I want to go on living.
Because I know lots of really great people, the world is getting better, and I look forward to seeing where we are as a species when I check out. Today someone sent me this message.
You really do let your emotions show in your writing. It’s cute.
Thank you! I’m glad someone finally noticed. This is for you, big fella.
Great pecs, by the way.
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