First, Reinhart and Rogoff excluded the post-war years for certain countries that enjoyed robust economic growth despite debt levels well over 90 percent. They also chose a skewed method of weighting the data: for example, New Zealand’s single year of terrible growth while over the 90 percent threshold wound up counting just as much as Britain’s 19 years of healthy growth. And they even incorrectly input at least one Excel spreadsheet formula, wrongly excluding several countries form their calculations.
In short, the central argument in support of austerity — cited by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, the New York Times’ David Brooks, and multiple times by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — is now defunct. No one disputes that a country should avoid a big build-up in debt over the long-term. But every concrete signal we’re getting from the American economy — our high unemployment, our low inflation, our extraordinarily low interest rates, and our negative real interest rates — are a signal that more debt spending in the short term to fight the depression is perfectly appropriate. Thanks to the austerity drive that was heavily influenced by Reinhart and Rogoff’s study, American lawmakers ignored those signals (and plenty of others) and cut spending, delivering the most destructive fiscal policy we’ve had in any recession since at least 1980.
Why do we take these people seriously again?