New Study Further Discredits Reinhart-Rogoff Debt Paranoia

A new review of the infamous Reinhart-Rogoff debt-to-GDP study further undermines the right-wing claim that high sovereign debt leads to low economic growth.

In their paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt," Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff supported the notion that high levels of sovereign debt carry disastrous consequences -- particularly when debt reaches 90 percent of GDP -- that was promoted throughout the media.

Even though that premise was thoroughly debunked in April, members of the right-wing media have clung to the notion that while the 90 percent debt-to-GDP threshold in the Reinhart-Rogoff study was inaccurate, its conclusion that high debt slows economic growth remained unchanged.

When faced with the discredited research, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore claimed as debt mounts, “the negative effects of that become more pronounced.” Fox Business' Lou Dobbs dismissed the critique of the Reinhart-Rogoff study as focusing too heavily on “a small mistake.” Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum claimed that “the simple fact that debt ultimately hinders growth is unchanged.” And editorials in both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal responded to the critique of the study by renewing calls for debt reduction in fear of negative economic outcomes.

New research further undermines this right-wing narrative. University of Michigan economist Miles Kimball and undergraduate researcher Yichuan Wang, examining the Reinhart-Rogoff data, conclude that high levels of debt have no link to slow, much less reverse, long term economic growth:

Based on economic theory, it would be surprising indeed if high levels of national debt didn't have at least some slow, corrosive negative effect on economic growth. And we still worry about the effects of debt. But the two of us could not find even a shred of evidence in the Reinhart and Rogoff data for a negative effect of government debt on growth.

Kimball and Wang's findings provide yet another blow to right-wing media's academic defense of austerity.