Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point comes under fire

Lately it's been open season on popular buzzword business books. First, Chris Anderson's The Long Tail went through the wringer as academics ripped holes in his theory that the real future growth in e-commerce sales lay in scarcely trafficked but easy to stock items. Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired, got an equally nasty reception for his latest book, Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business. In that book, Anderson explained how many things that are currently sold will soon be given away for free as part of new business models.

New Yorker writer and popular thinker Malcolm Gladwell savaged Anderson and his new economics of digital abundance as totally baseless. Now it's Gladwell's turn to take the hit -- from a more academically rigorous critic, no less.
A post on the blog VoxEU by New York University economic professor William Esterly calls into question the key theories behind Gladwell's mega-bestseller The Tipping Point (one of the best selling business books of all time). Gladwell's research was based on the work of another economist, the Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling. Schelling studied situations in U.S. neighborhoods and theorized that integrated neighborhoods were less stable.

As minorities began to move into white neighborhoods, Schelling believed, racist whites would leave. At first, the most racist whites would leave. But that would change the ratio of the neighborhood enough to encourage slightly less racists to leave until the equilibrium of the neighborhood had moved so dramatically that whites were no longer willing to live in the neighborhood. That change in equilibrium is what Schelling believed to be the tipping point.

Esterly went back and revisited actual neighborhood data from U.S. census collections and actually found the opposite to be true, in a working paper for the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research. The key quote:

Data on American neighbourhoods from 1970 to 2000 rejected these predictions – it was the segregated neighbourhoods that were unstable. There was as much "white flight" out of all-white neighbourhoods as there was out of mixed neighbourhoods, and there was a white influx into segregated non-white neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods are still very segregated in the year 2000, but not because of tipping. Maybe segregation exists because most whites really do want segregation, not because of a chain reaction due to herd behaviour.
Malcolm Gladwell, if you read this, got anything to reply? Would love your take. And for all those who were thinking of purchasing the book, it's still a great read -- but take the economic and statistics behind it with a bit more of a grain of salt.
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