A senior economic and trade advisor to President Donald Trump has been busted for making up a person he can quote in his books and to justify his policies.
A shocking expose in The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that Peter Navarro invented the name "Ron Vara," an anagram for Navarro, to justify his own opinions in his books.
The so-called Ron Vara has strong opinions, fortune-cookie-style quotes and an elaborate back story as "a military veteran and Harvard-trained economist who made seven figures in the stock market by investing in companies that do well during international crises," the report said.
But Ron Vara doesn't exist.
Navarro is fairly unknown outside of the wonky world of political economics, but he's most known for being the only adviser of Trump's to support the trade war with China.
"China scholars and fellow economists tend to be less enthused. Navarro doesn’t have a background in Chinese studies, doesn’t speak the language, and reportedly made his first trip to the country only last year," The Chronicle reported. "Justin Wolfers, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, once wrote that Navarro 'stands so far outside the mainstream that he endorses few of the key tenets of the profession.'"
Tessa Morris-Suzuki, an emeritus professor of Japanese and Korean history at the Australian National University, was looking into Navarro's "heated language," saying that is remarkably similar to the "yellow peril" language used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The racist philosophy encouraged Europe to invade and take over China.
But when she was working on her research, she kept seeing the name Ron Vara, with Navarro specifically citing Vara dozens of times in six books. Outside of Navarro, however, Ron Vara didn't seem to exist. He's not quoted in any other books, in fact, he never seemed to exist until Navarro's 2001 book If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks. Navarro invented the backstory that Vara was a doctoral student at Harvard working on a thesis on utilities regulation.
So, she called colleagues at Harvard to ask if they'd heard of him. No one had. But Navarro they did know. Interestingly enough, he was working on a doctoral thesis about utilities regulation around the same time as Ron Vara.
Greg Autry, a former graduate student of Navarro's who co-authored Death by China was one of the calls The Chronicle made that ultimately outed Navarro
“You’re not going to find Ron Vara,” Autry confessed, calling Vara an "Easter egg" in Navarro's books, meant to "lighten the tone."
“We do try to have a little bit of fun,” he claimed. “If anybody wants to not enjoy that, they’re welcome to.”
"Having fun" is generally reserved for college bars, not academic works of nonfiction or crafting trade policy for the president of the United States.
It's unknown if Autry's employer, the University of Southern California, is aware Autry has knowingly false sources cited in his books.
"Those who know Navarro well, Autry says, were fully aware that Ron Vara was a phony source who often popped up in his books. He said Vara was Navarro’s 'alter ego,' an 'everyman character' who dispenses cutesy business aphorisms as well as dire warnings about Chinese food," reported The Chronicle.
Other co-authors of Navarro's were not as lucky to be clued into the fake source cited in their books. One such co-author, Glenn Hubbard, who is a professor of finance and economics at Columbia University and dean emeritus of the business school, said that the use of a fake source in the books was not "OK" and he was unaware of it.
It's unknown if the various publishers of Navarro's books are aware of the fake source or if they intend to act on the new information by pulling Navarro's books from publication or issuing a disclaimer.
Navarro declined to talk to The Chronicle about Ron Vara on the record, but he sent a statement calling the fake source a “whimsical device and pen name I’ve used throughout the years for opinions and purely entertainment value, not as a source of fact.”
Read the full extensive expose at expose in The Chronicle of Higher Education.