Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fraudulent Controversial Books

A new page at my site; I need more suggestions for it.  They're just not at the top of my head right now.

Fraudulent Controversial Books

Part of the propaganda program of libertarianism has been a steady flow of books based on fraudulent claims that take months or years to debunk. Some are directly produced or financed by libertarians, others by academics or conservatives are heavily endorsed by libertarians.
All of these tend to go directly to print without peer review. They all tend to appeal to conservative (including libertarian) gut feelings.
Here's a partial list: see how many you have heard of.
2009 "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly" by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
Endorsed heavily by Cato and Mercatus, this has been the major academic work backing the claims that austerity is the way out of the great recession. It took 4 years to debunk decisively, when the spreadsheet was finally examined. The important false claim was that when debt exceeded 90% of GNP, growth was sharply reduced.
1998 "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws" by John Lott.
The polite way to say it was that their statistical conclusions were "not robust": more data or slightly different coding collapse their results.
1994 "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life" by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein.
The argument was based on numerous faulty assumptions, statistical monkey business and appeal to racist inclinations. Not peer reviewed before publication. No support for the genetic claims made in this book has ever been found.
1977 "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" by Robert Nozick.
A major libertarian text. Two major frauds, brilliantly concealed: (1) it denies, yet resorts to consequentialism and (2) it completely fails to justify initial acquisition, needed for property rights.
1944 "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich von Hayek.
Another fundamental libertarian text. A comically failed prediction of the coming totalitarian socialist state in western nations. Important in the Thatcher and Reagan administrations.
Please suggest more!


Lorraine said...

Freak-o-nomics, by Levitt and Dūbner

Or that polemic disguised as a textbook called Price Theory by Steven Landsburg that was on the reading list for studying for the actuarial exam.

Ghostwalk said...

What amazed me about that R-R debate is how the study is under attack for a spreadsheet error and stupid formalism and not because the methodology employed was so fucking terrible(confusing Correlation with causation was only the top of the iceberg).
Unfortunaly this is a problem of "economics" in general(even most of the left-wing ones) ,the field is filled with armchair theorists that have a strong vested interest into acting more like ideologues than like scientists

Mike Huben said...

Thanks, Lorraine. I just wonder if those two have really been as important in libertarian political discourse. But you are right in that they've both been quite controversial.

Ghostwalk: If I perceive two major problems, I would generally present the problem that is simplest and clearest to present. Rigging the data and an error in the spreadsheet is much more understandable to most people than "correlation isn't cause". People understand cheating and boneheaded mistakes, but if you say "correlation isn't cause" they will respond "huh?" (or if they are better educated, that cause has not been ruled out.)

john fremont said...

The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski, which presented the case for supply side economics in the early 1980's. Especially the case that low tax rates for every strata of income would benefit everyone. Thirty years of history have shown that not to be case. I'm not sure how controversial it was back then , but George. HW Bush famously called it "voodoo economics."

Mike Huben said...

That's a good one, John: I've added it.


1978 "The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski.
Laid out the central thesis of supply-side economics and promoted the Laffer Curve. This fraud was promoted as Reaganomics, which failed to produce the promised results.

Jim said...

I actually liked "The Road To Serfdom," but only if you read it as a warning of *possible* dystopian outcomes (arbitrary bureaucracy chief among them) if internal processes are not implemented to ensure the administrative state functions effectively.

When the book was written, the Administrative Procedure Act had not (if I recall) been passed into law yet; the entire field of administrative law was new; whole agencies were run on the whims and mercy of "visionary" directors (think J. Edgar Hoover) rather than on a set of reproducible processes.

In the United States, many of the predictions of Hayek failed to pass because the rule of law was extended, through democratic processes, to administrative agencies in a way that makes dealing with them at least somewhat predictable.

Unfortunately, I think how people read Hayek is based largely on their ideological predispositions. I am a recalcitrant New Deal Democrat -- I read The Road To Serfdom as an alternative history that fortunately did not come to pass due to progressive-minded leadership.

I think a lot of libertarians and conservatives though -- those living in a fantasy land where the government is only two steps behind, ready to take their Bibles, guns and gold and give it to the poor (blacks) in the form of welfare and Obama phones -- I think these people would interpret Hayek differently than I do.

john fremont said...

America's Great Depression by Murray Rothbard. The original work that argued the New Deal did not stop the Depression and may have prolonged it. I've heard Rush Limbaugh even bringing this up on his radio show although he doesn't mention Rothbard. Rothbard supported his thesis by citing statistics from the end of Hoover's term and up to the year 1937. Some of the programs Rothbard cites from Hoover's term were too small to have had an impact on private sector demand, while 1937 was the year FDR balanced the budget and increased capital requirements on banks. Niether of these events refute the New Deal and the thinking behind it.

Another book popular with libertarians is The South Was Right. The chapter on the treatment of slaves in the Old South relies heavily on some Smithsonian recordings of interviews conducted with some of the last surviving slaves and not much else. The authors trying to lead the reader that slavery wasn't that bad and that the loss of states rights was far more detrimental to the nation. It also argued that the Southern states were consistently states rights when the history of the time shows a much more varied approach was taken by Southern legislators in the decades before the Civil War.

Anonymous said...

Have you read The Bell Curve?

"The argument was based on numerous faulty assumptions, statistical monkey business and appeal to racist inclinations."

First part of the book is done exclusively on white race, where general conclusions were made, so there is no racist bias about the conclusions how people, ON AVERAGE, with different IQs behave. It's also interesting that it's racist only when we have white vs black, East Asians and Jews on same measurements do better than whites and no one has problem with that.
It's possible that there are some minor mistakes but in general their conclusions are strong.

"No support for the genetic claims made in this book has ever been found."

Experts don't debate if IQ is heritable, it's a well known fact (twin studies), the debate is by what amount. Their claim that it's 50% is by no means controversial. We didn't know until recently which alleles are responsible for human height, still we could say with certainty that difference between Japanese and Germans is genetic.

There are differences in IQ between ethnics groups, and some of it is due to genetics, this has been measured many times, and the results are always the same. Is this an argument for racism? Of course not, and this book doesn't promote it. Differences between ethnics groups, genders exist, how we act on these differences is what makes us racist or not.

You might want to add Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate to the list by similar criteria.

I agree with you about Austrian school of economics, it's an extremely stupid and dangerous ideology. But on topic of human intelligence, you're either biased for ideological reasons or just not well informed.

Mike Huben said...

No, I haven't read The Bell Curve. Few people read such door-stops.

But I recall that when it came out, libertarians were thrilled that one of their own dared to speak "truth" with "science", even if the policy proposals sounded outright racist. And I recall the years of critical reviews of their work.

A quick glance at the wikipedia article provides an overview of the criticisms.

The APA says about the genetic claims: "There is certainly no such support for a genetic interpretation... . It is sometimes suggested that the Black/ White differential in psychometric intelligence is partly due to genetic differences (Jensen, 1972). There is not much direct evidence on this point, but what little there is fails to support the genetic hypothesis."

"The Blank Slate" doesn't qualify simply because it isn't written by libertarians. My web site is about libertarianism.