Reinhart/Rogoff and holy crap!

I don’t consider myself a deficit scold, but did write a book called Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority and worry about things like the Debt:GDP ratio more than most who would self identify as progressives. When asked at myriad speeches, presentations and the like the past 3 years how much debt:GDP is too much, I have many times said something like “no one knows for sure, but when you are getting around 100% of public debt:GDP you will harm economic growth.” This diddy was based largely on an influential paper by Carmen Rinehart and Kenneth Rogoff that showed that nations’ whose debt:GDP was above 90% had average economic growth of -0.1% annually. It appears this widely cited (this is an understatement of how influential it has been) conclusion was based on a coding error and the correct rate of growth with the code corrected should be 2.2% GDP growth according to a new paper. As Matt Ygelesias says, this will almost certainly change nothing about the policy debate because most people are so locked into their ideological positions at this point (there were also so questionable exclusions of data for certain countries; the original study is a cross-national look at debt:GDP and economic growth).

My first thought is WOW, what a big error. As several have said on twitter today, it also gives me a pit in my stomach…..making a mistake like this in a published paper is the professor/analyst version of having the dream in which you have to take the final exam but you never went to the class.

The data and the facts are important. I am sure there will be more post-mortems, but this looks to be a huge case of a false fact having a big impact on an important debate.

update: fixed a typo

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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