Microsoft Excel: Too Complex For Non-IT Professionals? How About Economists?

by Aurich Lawson

An economics paper claiming that high levels of national debt led to low or negative economic growth could turn out to be deeply flawed as a result of, among other things, an incorrect formula in an Excel spreadsheetMicrosoft‘s PowerPointhas been considered evil thanks to the proliferation of poorly presented data and dull slides that are created with it. Might Excel also deserve such hyperbolic censure?

The paper, Growth in a Time of Debt, was written by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and published in 2010. Since publication, it has been cited abundantly by the world’s press politicians, including one-time vice president nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI). The link it draws between high levels of debt and negative average economic growth has been used by right-leaning politicians to justify austerity budgets: slashing government expenditure and reducing budget deficits in a bid to curtail the growth of debt.

This link was always controversial, with many economists proposing that the correlation between high debt and low growth was just as likely to have a causal link in the other direction to that proposed by Reinhart and Rogoff: it’s not that high debt causes low growth, but rather that low growth leads to high debt.