The Grad Student Who Took Down Reinhart And Rogoff Explains Why They’re Fundamentally Wrong

Thomas Herndon

Thomas Herndon is a Ph.D candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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Ed note: The following is a guest post from University of Massachusetts grad student Thomas Herndon. Herndon shook the economics world last week by debunking an influential paper from Harvard econ professors Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff that claimed countries with debt to GDP above 90% experience much lower growth.

Herndon’s paper showed an Excel coding flaw was partly to blame for the result.

After the paper came out, Reinhart and Rogoff admitted the error, but said that their core point remained valid.

In this post, Herndon responds to their response, and says the core point does not remain sound, and that his work does not show that debt-to-GDP above a certain threshold makes a meaningful impact on growth.

I would like to thank Business Insider for inviting me to reflect on the media coverage of the recent paper I co-authored, and to clear up any misconceptions I felt remained.

Overall I think the media coverage has been very fair and supportive. I want to thank the many journalists and media outlets that helped facilitate discussion about this important policy issue, and who have shown a young graduate student, with little media experience, the utmost respect and courtesy. 

I want to address here what I feel are the major misinterpretations of  our work, which will in part require engaging with the claim’s made in Reinhart’s and Rogoff’s response. First, we categorically did not impute any negative motives to the authors; and second, our results are not consistent with and do not confirm their findings. 

I want to start by stating in the strongest possible terms that the purpose of our paper was not to imply that the selective omissions and unconventional weighting were, as R&R asserted in response to us, “intentionally used to bias the results.” The purpose of our paper was strictly to ascertain the veracity of their results.  We know nothing whatsoever about their motives, and did not speculate on this at all in our paper. Throughout our paper we assume that their errors were honest mistakes. We also have honest differences over the appropriate methods for calculating average GDP growth figures.

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