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It Just Gets More and More Dismal

Caution: economists at work.

May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Meanwhile our scientific economists are fiercely debating the issue of causality in RR’s finding. Granted that debt and growth are somehow related, does high debt lead to slow growth, as RR suggest (but never explicitly assert), or does slow growth result in high debt, as HAP suggests? Only an economist could fail to see that causality, in this situation as in all others, probably goes both ways, waxing here and waning there, commingled with dozens of causal factors beyond “public debt” and “GDP” that an economist could never control for. The economy that economists study is an artificial scheme imposed on the actions of tens of millions of actors—315 million of them in the case of the United States, not to mention the several billion others who daily do one thing or another that will have consequences far beyond their own borders. 

This supposedly data-driven argument about causality and debt and growth is really an argument about values—values that dare not speak their name: ideology and beliefs about what’s right and wrong, about the proper way for people and their governments to behave. When RR speak of their paper’s “message,” and HAP conclude their paper by encouraging governments to end austerity and start borrowing, the game is up. Deep down, I suppose, RR think debt is bad; HAP think you can’t have enough of the stuff. But no one in our intellectual class wants to argue such a question on moral grounds. Pretending it’s science makes us feel so much better.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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