In a dispute that immediately had me thinking about the Hayek v. Keynes rap battle, Harvard academics Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have accused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman of acting in an "uncivil" and "shallow" manner. Their long letter comes in response to Krugman's criticism of the two, calling them "objects of much ridicule" and questioning their choice to stand by their contention that growth falls significantly after national debt exceeds 90% of GDP, despite a report that their research method was deeply flawed.
The conclusions of their 2010 Harvard paper, which Krugman says "may have had more immediate influence on public debate than any previous paper in the history of economics," were disproved by a University of Massachusetts at Amherst graduate student. Thomas Herndon found that the Reinhart-Rogoff study excluded countries that had high debt and normal growth, and made critical arithmetic errors in their Excel spreadsheet, severely skewing the results. The study's influence in recent GOP economic policy is hard to overstate. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the study "confirms" the need for rapid deficit reduction in his "Path to Prosperity" budget. The budget even references the study in its text: "The study found conclusive empirical evidence that gross debt … exceeding 90% of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth."
The Reinhart-Rogoff letter in response to Krugman reads:
"We admire your past scholarly work, which influences us to this day. So it has been with deep disappointment that we have experienced your spectacularly uncivil behavior the past few weeks … You have attacked us in very personal terms, virtually non-stop, in your New York Times column and blog posts … Your characterization of our work and of our policy impact is selective and shallow. It is deeply misleading about where we stand on the issues. And we would respectfully submit, your logic and evidence on the policy substance is not nearly as compelling as you imply."
Paul Krugman's bashing of the two is indeed uncivil. Academics should not resort to name-calling in disputes, but rather academic reasoning. Even though their theory was disproven, it is commendable that Reinhart and Rogoff did not use harsher words in response to Krugman's inappropriate criticism. Krugman has a reputation sparring versus fellow pundits with a less-than-academic demeanor.