Well, some days, you don't have much of a choice, do you? The catch has to go to economists Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin, who have a new paper out demolishing Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the effect of high government debt on the economy -- with a big assist to Mike Konczal, who wrote a clear and readable blog post explaining the conflict nicely.
The headline here is that Reinhart and Rogoff apparently made a simple computation error, but the Herndon-Ash-Pollin critique goes well beyond that -- as do other critiques previously aired (disclaimer: I haven't read either paper; I'm just relying on what economists and economics-literate bloggers and reporters are saying).
While it's probably a good idea to be cautious of the critique (just as it would have been a good idea to be cautious about the original paper), it certainly isn't good news for preachers of austerity.
I've seen some snark on twitter suggesting that no one who has recommended austerity, including those who specifically cited Reinghart-Rogoff as their reason, will flip as a result of this. That's probably correct! But only because it's extremely unlikely that very many people really relied on economics in the first place.
So my guess is that this debunking will get exactly as much weight now for most people as the original paper had: very little.
A more complicated question is how much should economists count towards economic policy? After all, if the profession is capable of making a mistake this big (apparently), should they be trusted? The answer, I would argue, is that politicians should certainly make use of economists -- and other experts -- but be very wary about hearing only what they want to hear. That's a lot easier said than done, and it doesn't really give policymakers any clear, bright rules, and it doesn't even assure success if you're good at it. All it does is increase your chances of policy success. But that's still worthwhile!
That is, all of this does really point to a key governing skill: being good at sifting through expert advice. And perhaps the first thing about that is that a politician will only be good at it -- only get good at it -- if she realizes that it's important and really tries to do it. As opposed, say, to simply choosing policy and then seeking out supporting expert opinions. Because one can always find expert support, no matter how goofy the policy preference. Again, however, even if you go about it the right way -- even if you are looking for what the experts really do think, and you want to take that into account when choosing policy -- it's still going to be extremely difficult to be good at it. Especially when you realize that policy-makers in general, and presidents in particular, must do it across an impossibly wide range of policy areas which involve all sorts of different disciplines. Each of which has its own internal debates. Many of which have entirely different forms of credentialing and peer review. Most of which ever have a definitive answer -- but all of which have people who promise that what they have found is the definitive answer.
Also: nice catch!