It's not fair to blame Rogoff and Reinhart for the austerity craze that has gripped Europe. It is fair to say that their presentation of flawed data about the last half-century of growth and debt was used as intellectual ammunition in a total war on deficits that has destroyed families across the continent.
In Greece, the fog of austerity is more than a metaphor. This winter, a very real cloud of smoke haunted the city at night, as families burned felled trees and broken chairs to stay warm. While the economy has shrunk by a fifth and youth unemployment has screamed past 50 percent, the real tragedy can't really be told with numbers. It's simple, really. Children are starving.
The New York Times reports the heart-breaking details:
"He had eaten almost nothing at home," Mr. Nikas said, sitting in his cramped school office near the port of Piraeus, a working-class suburb of Athens, as the sound of a jump rope skittered across the playground. He confronted Pantelis's parents, who were ashamed and embarrassed but admitted that they had not been able to find work for months. Their savings were gone, and they were living on rations of pasta and ketchup.
The euro was supposed to tie Europe together as a single unified economic powerhouse. When Greek children go malnourished while unemployment falls in Germany, you can see very clearly that unity is just another European myth. In the United States, we have an answer for weak state economies. It's called Mississippi. They get a permanent "bail out" through an annual transfer of money: tax credits, Medicaid spending, infrastructure assistance, and so on. In Europe, the answer for failing state economies is: You get this bag of money if you take the following measures to destroy your economy.
You don't need to know how to fact-check Harvard economists to understand a simple truth: Force-feeding austerity to a country starving for money and growth will only get you more starvation.