Critique of Reinhart & Rogoff Garners International Attention

Thomas Herndon

Thomas Herndon

On April 15, UMass Amherst Economics Department Graduate Student Thomas Herndon and Professors Michael Ash and Robert Pollin published a working paper titled, Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff. In the paper the authors examine Reinhart and Rogoff’s research on the relationship between public debt and GDP growth for advanced economies in the post-World War II period. Reinhart and Rogoff argue that the rate of economic growth for these countries has consistently declined precipitously once the level of government debt exceeds 90 percent of the country’s GDP. In recent years, Reinhart and Rogoff’s results have been highly influential as support for austerity policies in both Europe and the United States.

Herndon, Ash and Pollin find that a series of data errors and unsupportable statistical techniques led to an inaccurate representation of the actual relationship between public debt levels and GDP growth. They find that when properly calculated, average GDP growth for advanced economies at public debt-to-GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different than when debt-to-GDP ratios are lower.

Almost immediately the Herndon, Ash, Pollin findings went viral with lots of social media buzz on Twitter and Facebook. The story has garnered extensive national and international coverage. Below is a list of media coverage to date.

New York Times, 5/22/13
A Keynesian Victory, but Austerity Stands Firm

Socialist Worker, 5/22/13
The end of austerity?

New York Times, 5/21/13
Sharing Abuse Fairly

The New American, 5/21/13
If This Is the End of “Austerity,” When Did Austerity Begin?

All Africa, 5/20/13
Nigeria: Why Country Needs Expansionary Macroeconomic Policies

Business World, 5/18/13
Ultra Mega Data and Their Pitfalls

Daily Star, 5/18/13
Economists aren’t humble, so don’t believe everything they say

The Reporter, 5/18/13
What use are economists?

New York Times, 5/17/13
Europe’s Economics Chief Tries to Peel Off ‘Mr. Austerity’ Label 

The Christian Science Monitor, 5/17/13
EU austerity hawks shrug off criticism of flawed academic paper

Orlando Sentinel, 5/17/13
‘I know it when I see it’

Jamaica Gleaner, 5/17/13
Fake Deficit Hawks As Ideological Austerity-Pushers

Oman Tribune, 5/1/13
Errors mar influential economic study on austerity

Huffington Post, 4/30/13
2 More Grad Students Claim To Find Another Flaw In Reinhart-Rogoff Research

Boston.com, 4/30/13
UMass economists take on Harvard

The Wall Street Journal, 4/30/13
The Reinhart and Rogoff Distraction

WBUR, 4/30/13
The Economics Earthquake

The New Yorker, 4/29/13
The Rogoff and Reinhart Controversy: A Summing Up

New York Magazine, 4/29/13
How the Media Broke Up With Austerity

Huffington Post, 4/29/13
Marathon Bombings Suspect to ‘Reinhart-Rogoff-gate’: Two Very Different UMASS Students Made News Last Week

Quartz, 4/29/13
The grad student who exposed Reinhart and Rogoff: They still can’t get their facts straight

New York Times, 4/29/13
Debt and Growth – A Response to Reinhart and Rogoff

Republican, 4/29/13
UMass Thomas Herndon shines light on austerity and ‘Growth in a Time of Debt’

The Washington Post, 4/28/13
The economist whodunit

Republican, 4/28/13
Editorial: UMass posts win over Harvard in most esoteric arena

Hindu Business Line, 4/28/13
Research blues in social sciences

The Spectator, 4/27/13
Reinhart and Rogoff’s faulty spreadsheet doesn’t destroy the case for austerity

Aljazeera, 4/27/13
Austerity debunked

The Sydney Morning Herald, 4/27/13
Austerity slips out of fashion amid growing recession risk

Financial Post, 4/25/13
Despite Rogoff/Reinhart data scandal, high debt still a problem

The Globe and Mail, 4/25/13
A simple data error, and Europe’s austerity pain

The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/24/13
‘They Said at First They Hand’t Made a Spreadsheet Error, When They Had’

The Cap Times, 4/24/13
John Nichols: Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda is based on serious mistake

The Washington Post, 4/24/13
The Reinhart/Rogoff Brawl

MSN, 4/24/13
Colbert turns austerity movement into punch line

MSNBC, 4/24/13
How an Excel spreadsheet error hurt the economy
Debunked: The Harvard study that Republicans used to push austerity

National Review, 4/24/13
A Flawed Landmark

The Irish Times, 4/24/13
Economics: Austerity loses an article of faith

Raw Story, 4/24/13
Colbert takes on UMass ‘Poindexter’ who debunked pro-austerity study

Chicago Tribune, 4/23/13
Half-baked theories continue to direct global history

The Wall Street Journal, 4/23/13
The Doctoral Student Who ‘Happed’ Reinhart and Rogoff

The Washington Post, 4/23/13
Austerity doctrine exposed as flimfam

The Colbert Report, 4/23/13
Austerity’s Spreadsheet Error

The Mermaid’s Tale, 4/23/13
A lesson on lessening, from economics

The Hindu, 4/23/13
Beware the nostrums of economists

The Real News Network, 4/23/13
28-year old PhD student debunks the most influential austerity study

NPR, 4/22/13
European Austerity Yields Meager Results In 2012

Spectrum IEEE, 4/22/13
IT Hiccups of the Week: Excel Spreadsheet Error Heard Around the World

Brisbane Times, 4/22/13
Austerity on trial as debate reignites

Business Insider, 4/22/13
Herndon Responds to Reinhart and Rogoff

New York Times, 4/22/13
Replicating Research: Austerity and Beyond
Very Sensitive People

BBC, 4/21/13
More Or Less, Austerity: A Spreadsheet Error?

CNN International, 4/21/13
Graduate student: Didn’t take long to find errors in prominent pro-austerity study

AlterNet, 4/21/13
Unbelievable! Bowles and Simpson Release New Deficit-Reduction Plan Based on Discredited Austerity Research

The Independent [Ireland], 4/21/13
In theory and in practice, austerity fails

The Independent [UK], 4/21/13
Osborne should choose his guides more carefully

Financial Times, 4/21/13
Perils of placing faith in a thin theory

Sydney Morning Herald, 4/20/13
The consequences of dodgy data

Quartz, 4/20/13
An economist’s mea culpa: I relied on Reinhart and Rogoff

Salon, 4/20/13
When wonks burn politicians

The Economist, 4/20/13
The 90% Question

Bloomberg, 4/19/13
Finance Chiefs Endorse Cuts as Reinhart-Rogoff Challenged

BBC, 4/19/13
Reinhart, Rogoff… and Herndon: The student who caught out the profs

New York Magazine, 4/18/13
Grad Student Who Shook Global Austerity Movement

EuroNews, 4/18/13
European austerity programmes based on Excel error?

TruthOut, 4/18/13
Media Relied Upon Discredited Reinhart-Rogoff Research To Stoke Debt Fears

The Fiscal Times, 4/18/13
Drama over Rogoff-Reinhart Paper Changes Nothing… and Everything

Forbes, 4/18/13
That Reinhart and Rogoff Committed a Spreadsheet Error Completely Misses the Point

IBN, 4/18/13
How Thomas Herndon, a student, took on Harvard economists and won

The Courier Mail, 4/18/13
EDITORIAL: Debt can be a powerful tool

The Business Times, 4/18/13
Key study on austerity may be flawed

Seeking Alpha, 4/18/13
Chart of The Day, Reverse-Causality Edition

The Guardian, 4/18/13
Making a comedy of errors: a serious story you may have missed

The Telegraph, 4/18/13
Debunking austerity claims makes no difference to Europe’s monks and zealots

The Economist, 4/18/13
The ivory fortress

BBC, 4/18/13
Austerity justification study ‘inaccurate’

NPR, 4/18/13
Despite Flaws, Harvard Economists Stand By Research

The Nation, 4/18/13
Paul Ryan’s Austerity Agenda Relies on Bad Math, Coding Errors and a ‘Significant Mistake’

Reuters, 4/18/13
Chart of the day, reverse-causality edition
Sharp-eyed student takes on famed economists over basic errors- and wins

Businessweek, 4/18/13
FAQ: Reinhart, Rogoff, and the Excel Error That Changed History

New York Magazine, 4/18/13
Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement

NDTV, 4/18/13
How a student took on two big Harvard economists. And won.

Slate MoneyBox blog, 4/18/13
Arin Dube Demolishes Reinhart/Rogoff Causal Argument

Harvard Business Review, 4/17/13
Reinhart, Rogoff, and How the Macroeconomic Sausage Is Made

Forbes, 4/17/13
Reinhart and Rogoff; and The Dangers of Tipping Points, Real and Otherwise
Does Public Debt Inhibit Growth? Or Do Recessions Increase Debt?

Huffington Post, 4/17/13
Reinhart And Rogoff Pushed Partisan Austerity Argument, Now Claim Academic Neutrality

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, 4/17/13
Reinhart and Rogoff Don’t Matter

Media Matters, 4/17/13
Major Errors Undermine Key Argument For Austerity Frequently Cited By Media

War of Ideas blog, 4/17/13
Reinhart Rogoff redux

Albany Business Review, 4/17/13
Study used to justify budget cuts may contain errors

Boston Business Journal, 4/17/13
Three UMass Profs. expose flaw in Harvard research that underpinned austerity

The Independent, 4/17/13
Harvard economists admit errors in austerity blueprint paper

Investor’s Business Daily, 4/17/13
Debt Study Flawed; Debt Crisis Still Remains

Quartz, 4/17/13
Reinhart and Rogoff’s defense is misleading and here’s why

Mother Jones, 4/17/13
Should We Be Afraid of Debt Levels Above 30%

MarketWatch, 4/17/13
Reinhart and Rogoff’s second, longer response to critique

Yahoo!Finance, 4/17/13
Did a Spreadsheet Error Cost You Your Job?
Did Harvard Economists Make an Excel Error that Led to Economic Austerity?

The Daily Beast, 4/17/13
Rogoff and Reinhart Respond
Did Reinhart and Rogoff Flub a Major Statistic?
What’s the Cost of an Excel Error?

Reuters, 4/17/13
Counterparties: R-squared regression analysis

The Guardian, 4/17/13
Rogoff and Reinhart defend their numbers

The Mirror, 4/17/13
George Osborne’s favourite “godfathers of austerity” economists admit to making error in their research

Maclean’s, 4/17/13
Why justifying austerity just got harder

CBC News, 4/17/13
Key pro-austerity study based on incorrect math

The Maddow Blog, 4/17/13
Republican response required to Reinhart/Rogoff

MSNBC, 4/17/13
Ryan’s favorite pro-austerity study filled with ‘serious errors’

The New Yorker, 4/17/13
The Crumbling Case for Austerity Economics

CNNMoney, 4/17/13
Debt’s impact on growth: Latest study doesn’t settle debate
Damn Excel! How the ‘most important software application is of all time’ is ruining the world

Time, 4/17/13
Why the Argument for Austerity Took a Big Hit Yesterday

The Wall Street Journal, 4/17/13
Reinhart, Rogoff Admit Excel Mistake, Reubt Other Critiques

The Washington Post, 4/17/13
Austerity? Oops.

Salon, 4/17/13
Whoops! Turns out debt doesn’t ruin economies

Financial Times, 4/17/13
Austerity after Reinhart and Rogoff

Rortybomb, 4/17/13
Guest Post: Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt

Slate MoneyBox blog, 4/17/13
Further Thoughts on Reinhart and Rogoff

CNBC, 4/17/13
Why the Fuss Over Reinhart and Rogoff is Overblown
Reinhart-Rogoff Error Sparks Austerity Debate

Boston Herald, 4/17/13
Harvard deficit paper disputed

The New York Times, 4/17/13
With Debt Study’s Errors Confirmed, Debate on Conclusion Goes On
Does High Debt Cause Slow Growth?
Blame the Pundits, Too
Research on Government Debt is Challenged

Financial Times, 4/17/13
Harvard duo defend case for austerity

The Telegraph, 4/17/13
This time is different – thanks to data manipulation
Don’t worry, Prof Rogoff – to err is what makes us human
Row erupts over study into public debt as economists turn on Rogoff and Reinhart

Key research on austerity by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart ‘contains serious errors’

Bloomberg, 4/17/13
7 Data Disasters More Embarassing Than Reinhart and Rogoff’s
Reinhart and Rogoff Never Made a Good Case for Austerity
Reinhart-Rogoff on Debt and Growth: Fake but Accurate?
Reinhart-Rogoff Acknowledge Mistake in 2010 Paper Cited by Ryan
Reinhart-Rogoff Paper Cited by Ryan Faulted by UMass Economists

Finfacts Ireland, 4/17/13
Top US economists accused of dodgy calculations on debt impact

Quartz, 4/16/13
How influential was the Rogoff-Reinhart study warning that high debt kills growth?
Fixing this Excel error transforms high-debt countries from recession to growth

Mother Jones, 4/16/13
Quote of the Day: Excel Error Destroys the World

The Daily Beast, 4/16/13
Austerity Guru Voodoo

The Dish, 4/16/13
The Austerity Typo?

Reuters, 4/16/13
UPDATE 2-Influential economic study on austerity may be flawed

Esquire The Politics Blog, 4/16/13
Math is Hard

Think Progress, 4/16/13
What The Austerity Paper’s Intellectual Collapse Tells Us About Modern Journalism
11 Republicans Who Cited a Faulty Study To Push For Drastic Spending Cuts
New Research Undermines The GOP’s Austerity Agenda

The Maddow Blog, 4/16/13
‘The Excel Error Heard Round the World’

The Atlantic, 4/16/13
The Great Debt Delusion: How Math Keeps Proving Austerity Wrong

CNN, 4/16/13
Economists’ case for austerity attacked

Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/16/13
The Twitterverse Goes Nuts Over Economists’ Clash

Los Angeles Times, 4/16/13
Economists rebut, sort of, critique on high-debt, low-growth study
How an Excel error fueled panic over the federal debt

TruthOut, 4/16/13
How Much Unemployment Did Reinhart and Rogoff’s Arithmetic Mistake Cause?

The Wall Street Journal, 4/16/13
Seminal Economic Paper on Debt Draws Criticism
Is 90% Really a Sovereign-Debt Red Line? A New Paper Says No
Reinhart-Rogoff Response to Critique

Salon, 4/16/13
GOP’s go-to economics study debunked

UPI.com, 4/16/13
UMass study refutes Harvard study on federal debt ratio

Slate MoneyBox blog, 4/16/13
Is The Reinhart-Rogoff Result Based on a Simple Spreadsheet Error?
Reinhart and Rogoff Respond

The Guardian, 4/16/13
How much unemployment did Reinhart and Rogoff’s arithmetic mistake cause?

The Hill, 4/16/13
Researchers claim ‘serious errors’ in GDP study cited by deficit hawks

Business Insider, 4/16/13
Shocking Paper Claims that Microsoft Excel Coding Error is Behind The Reinhart-Rogoff Study on Debt
Breaking: Reinhart/Rogoff Shot Full of Holes

Huffington Post, 4/16/13
Influential Reinhart-Rogoff Pro-Austerity Research Riddled With Errors: Study

The Washington Post, 4/16/13
Austerity’s foundations continue to crumble
Is the evidence for austerity based on an Excel spreadsheet error?

The New York Times, 4/16/13
Reinhart-Rogoff, Continued
Response From Reinhart and Rogoff
A Study That Set the Tone for Austerity Is Challenged
Holy Coding Error, Batman

Financial Times Alphaville, 4/16/13
Raining on Reinhart and Rogoff

Financial Times Money Supply, 4/16/13
Reinhart-Rogoff Initial Response

Marketwatch Markets Stream blog, 4/16/13
The spreadsheet error in Reinhart and Rogoff’s famous paper on debt sustainability

Wall Street Pit blog, 4/16/13
Austerity Research Fail

AdvisorOne, 4/16/13
Oops! Reinhart-Rogoff Research Tripped Up by Typo

The American Prospect, 4/16/13
Reinhart and Rogoff’s Theory of Government Debt is Dead

US News & World Report, 4/16/13
How an Excel Error Helped Lead the World Into Austerity
How a Slip of the Finger Changed the Economic Policy Debate

Foreign Policy, 4/16/13
Were Reinhart and Rogoff wrong about the debt-growth connection?

On the Economy, 4/16/13
Not to Pile On, But…Correcting Reinhart and Rogoff

Lawyers, Guns & Money, 4/16/13
But Austerity Is Science!

Daily Kos, 4/16/13
Researchers finally replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and there are serious problems

The Globe and Mail, 4/16/13
Bad math? Reinhart-Rogoff study on perils of debt called into question

3 Responses to “Critique of Reinhart & Rogoff Garners International Attention”

  1. I never believed in this theory anyway. England´s debt in the early 1950s was over 200% of his GDP. And even then the UK avoided default, reduced his debt and even managed to set up the Welfare State and NHS (National Health System). This theory of Reinhard and Rogoff was ridiculous from the very first moment, because there are enough examples of states who had a far higher debt-to-GDP-ratio (like England in the early 50s) and managed to avoid default and were able to reduce their debt very considerably and even to finance a Welfare State and to have at the same time a considerable or even high growth.

    Look for this for example the article “UK National Debt” in the british website “Economics Help”:

    http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/334/uk-economy/uk-national-debt/

    Look for this also the intelligent article of Martin Wolf from october 2012 “Lessons from History on Public Debt” in the “Financial Times”:

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e26e46ae-1138-11e2-8d5f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2R14QfUI5

    Look for this also the intelligent article of Paul Krugman from January 2012 “Nobody Understands Debt”:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/opinion/krugman-nobody-understands-debt.html?_r=0

  2. A small error of mine: NHS is “National Health Service” (and not System). I´m a german citizen anyway. We have our own system, though I believe that the english citizens have good reasons for being proud of their NHS.

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