The usually collegial tone in communications between academics was absent in an open letter Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff sent their fellow economist Paul Krugman over the weekend, decrying what they called his “spectacularly uncivil behavior” in recent articles.
“You have attacked us in very personal terms, virtually nonstop, in your New York Times column and blog posts,” they wrote in a note opening with a polite expression of admiration for the Times columnist’s late-1980s economic research.
Reinhart and Rogoff’s highly influential research became the subject of controversy last month when a team of researchers found that a simple Excel spreadsheet error significantly altered the findings of a highly cited paper of theirs.
The economist duo acknowledged the error, but defended their work, saying the results of the research team critiquing them were consistent with their overall conclusions that countries with high levels of public debt experience lower average economic growth.
In their open letter, published on Reinhart’s website, the economist duo say a barrage of Krugman criticism crossed a line in a recent New York Review of Books article by “adding the accusation we didn’t share our data.”
Reinhart and Rogoff say their debt/GDP database was available on the Web since October 2010, and published on a second website in March 2011, and call the accusation “a sloppy neglect on your part to check the facts before charging us with a serious academic ethical infraction.”
The duo reserve most of their words in defense of the substance of their own and others’ research establishing a link between high debt and slow growth—research they claim “would inconveniently undermine your attempt to make us a scapegoat for austerity.”
In the process, Reinhart and Rogoff include a long-list of links meant to show that their policy views offered in “real time,” as the economic crisis unfolded in 2008 and 2009 give lie to the view that they counseled austerity measures—including even an August 2010 quote from Krugman cheering them on for opposing austerity.
This series of quotes traces Reinhart and Rogoff’s view that loose fiscal policies were needed amid the crisis but that tackling the debt through measures such as the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission proposal was necessary in the longer term.
Turning to the substance of the debt/GDP debate, Reinhart and Rogoff argue that “the advanced economies now have levels of debt that surpass most if not all historic episodes,” and add that debt levels over 90% of GDP are “very rare altogether and even rarer in peacetime.”