And now China is seizing on it, given Navarro’s role in pushing Trump’s trade war. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that the world is “in uproar and shocked.” He also accused the Trump administration of conducting trade policy based on lies.
But here’s the thing: Navarro’s offense may not be as bad as you think it is.
The story was first broken last week by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which noted that Navarro wrote about Vara and quoted him in a number of nonfiction books but that there is no record of him existing. Navarro copped to the invention, calling Ron Vara — an anagram of “Navarro” — “a whimsical device and pen name I’ve used throughout the years for opinions and purely entertainment value, not as a source of fact.”
But almost every story written about this omits a key fact: When Navarro first introduced Vara in his 2001 book, “If It’s Raining in Brazil, Buy Starbucks,” he didn’t present him as a real person. He was one of the number of transparently fictional characters Navarro used to make his points.
“Let me show you what I mean with just a few examples of some fictional microinvestors in very real situations,” Navarro wrote in his introduction.
In Chapter 5, Navarro introduces “Robert Fisher,” whom he later reemphasizes is a “fictional chess player cum stock trader.”
In Chapter 8, he references “our fictional trader named Hope Knot.”
In Chapter 9, he alludes to “our fictional Julia Edgewater.”
In Chapter 11, it’s “two fictional traders, Charles Yeager and Angela Earhardt.”
In Chapter 18, it’s “our fictional trader leading off this chapter, Richard Hume.”
Each time one of these characters is brought up, Navarro presents their stories in italics — including, in Chapter 19, Ron Vara, “microwave trader,” who shorted nuclear stocks two days before the tragedy at Chernobyl.
Here’s what that looks like with Edgewater:
Navarro does not explicitly say that Ron Vara is a fictional character, just as he doesn’t make that disclosure in each and every case. But it should be pretty apparent to anyone reading the book.
Indeed, some of the characters are so ridiculous, there’s no way anyone would think they are real. “Hope Knot” is one of them. “Robert Fisher” is a clear play on the actual chess champion, Bobby Fischer. Another is a professor who takes time off to participate in senior cycling competitions in Europe. His name? “Lancer Armstrong.” A fourth is a retired economics professor named “Herb Hoover” who just so happened to fall victim to President Herbert Hoover’s interest rate hikes.
None of this is to say there is nothing wrong with what Navarro did. In later books, he uses cliched anti-China quotes from “Ron Vara” to lead off chapters without explaining that “Ron Vara” isn’t real. The co-author of his 2010 book “Seeds of Destruction,” Glenn Hubbard, has said he was unaware that Ron Vara was a fictional character.
Navarro also reportedly didn’t tell at least one of his publishers, Prentice Hall, or its parent company, Pearson, which says it will add an advisory note to his 2011 book, “Death by China,” that discloses Vara is fictional.
“Pearson has strict editorial standards that apply to all of its publishing businesses and authors,” spokesman Scott Overland told NPR. “We take any breaches of these standards very seriously and take swift action when one is identified.”
At worst, Navarro seems to have taken a character whom any reader would recognize as fictional and, in future works, expanded his artistic license more than he should have. But it shouldn’t be ignored that he was pretty transparent about what he was doing when he presented Ron Vara for the first time.
And that book is the only time, it bears noting, that he appears to have dwelt upon Ron Vara’s backstory. Reports have laid out what Navarro said about Ron Vara in that book in some detail -- noting how he was a Harvard student and Iraq war veteran who supposedly mastered the stock market -- without noting the disclosures in the same book that such characters were fictional.
That should probably temper any “uproar” or “shock” the world is feeling about all this.