¿Para qué sirven los economistas?

CAMBRIDGE – Cuando es mucho lo que está en juego, no es de extrañar que los oponentes políticos enfrentados recurran a cualquier apoyo que puedan conseguir de economistas y otros investigadores. Eso es lo que ocurrió cuando políticos conservadores americanos y funcionarios de la Unión Europea aprovecharon el trabajo de dos profesores de Harvard –Carmen Reinhart y Kenneth Rogoff– para justificar su apoyo a la austeridad fiscal.

Reinhart y Rogoff publicaron un estudio que parecía demostrar que unos niveles de deuda pública superiores al 90 por ciento del PIB impiden en gran medida el crecimiento económico. Después tres economistas de la Universidad de Massachussets en Amherst hicieron lo que se debe hacer sistemáticamente en el mundo académico: reproducir el trabajo de sus colegas y someterlo a critica.

Junto con un error menor en una hoja de cálculo, descubrieron algunas opciones metodológicas en el trabajo original de Reinhart/Rogoff que ponían en entredicho la solidez de sus resultados. Lo más importante fue que, aunque seguía existiendo una correlación negativa entre los niveles de deuda y el crecimiento, el argumento en pro del umbral del 90 por ciento resultó ser muy flojo y, como han sostenido muchos, la propia correlación podría ser el resultado de que un crecimiento escaso propicie un gran endeudamiento y no viceversa.

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