Reinhart and Rogoff seem to be correct in one basic respect: Economic growth does seem to be lower in very-high-debt countries. But the entire debate over their paper's flaws begs the central question of cause and effect. Is growth lower because of the high debt? Or does cause-and-effect the other way around?
Fear of debt is woven deeply into our culture. We associate debt with profligate spending, waste, gambling and overall sinfulness. As we learned during the housing bubble, it's easy to get in over our heads. So naturally we assume that the same must be true for our country -- government debt must be bad. But is it?
The "sequester" -- mindless, across-the-board spending cuts designed purposefully to be abhorrent to both political parties -- now seems likely to go into effect on March 1. The sequester cuts added to spending cuts and tax increases already scheduled will slow growth and cost jobs. Government austerity has already contributed to the worst recovery in post-World War II history. Why would the U.S. repeat this folly, despite warnings from the IMF and Federal Reserve officials? Every calamity has many authors -- Obama's premature turn to deficit reduction in 2009, the Tea Party zealots, a hapless and clueless Republican congressional leadership and more. One major contribution comes from the money and monomania of Pete Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire who has committed about half a billion bucks rousing hysteria about deficits and debt.
Bigoted people of all stripes and sizes will continue to cling to their prejudices and sadly, they will even demand that their intolerant and inaccurate beliefs be the standard by which all of society lives. It's time to call them on their hate and stop equating them with valid and informed stances.