THE LAST WEEK has been rough for Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, too. The Harvard economists, celebrated for their work on financial crises, stand accused of analytical errors — the correction of which debunks their famous 2010 finding that a national debt-to-gross domestic product ratio above 90 percent may substantially retard economic growth.
The Rogoff-Reinhart goof was no harmless error, the critics charge, but the intellectual trigger for spending cuts and tax increases, in both the United States and Europe — at a time when the world really needs more demand, fueled by government borrowing, to fight mass unemployment.
Mr. Rogoff and Ms. Reinhart acknowledged a mistake in spreadsheet coding, which caused them to overstate the negative correlation between government debt and growth. However, they rebutted broader charges leveled by the University of Massachusetts team that spotted the spreadsheet mistake — namely, that Mr. Rogoff and Ms. Reinhart selectively omitted some crucial data and improperly weighed others. The U-Mass. economists’ reworking of the data shows an association between a plus-90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio and slower growth, just a smaller one than Mr. Rogoff and Ms. Reinhart found.