Economic Impact

Greener Thomas Herndon ’07 shows austerity movement is based on faulty math

Thomas L. Purce, President

Thomas HerndonWhen Thomas Herndon worked in the President’s office as a student, we were impressed by his curiosity, his web skills, and his musical accomplishments. (He sometimes played bass in our office ukulele band.) Now a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, he is causing a major stir among economists with his discovery that a hugely influential study of the relationship between economic growth and government debt by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff had serious errors. A coding error in their data spreadsheet called into question the study’s finding that countries with debt loads higher than 90 percent of annual GDP experience slower growth. Those findings have been widely cited as support for the austerity measures that governments around the world have implemented during the economic crisis.

Thomas spotted the error as part of an assignment for a graduate econometrics course. He told New York magazine that he decided to analyze Reinhart and Rogoff in order to better understand the evidence offered in support of policies that he questions. “I have social motivations,” he said. “I care deeply about how policy affects people.” Thomas’ classroom assignment became an academic paper, for which he is the lead author, along with UMass- Amherst economics faculty members Robert Pollin and Michael Ash. The paper became an overnight sensation, cited by economists, news outlets and political groups across the U.S. and around the world. Thomas is an outstanding example of the difference Evergreen graduates make by bringing their critical thinking and questioning skills to real world problems.

As Evergreen alumni, faculty, staff or students, we’ve always known that the college has had an extraordinary impact on our own lives and communities. It’s encouraging to see Greeners like Thomas demonstrating that value every day. Last fall, more than 3,000 Evergreen alumni participated in an economic impact study by the independent research firm ECONorthwest. Completed in January, the study spells out many of the ways in which Evergreen has a positive financial, social and career impact on students, alumni, the community and the state. (See some of the findings on page 20.)

This research gives us one more way to illustrate the power of the Evergreen experience to educate engaged citizens and prepare students for tomorrow’s careers. Our best case for Evergreen’s outstanding liberal arts education comes from the accomplishments of our alumni, students and faculty. Thomas is one example, as are the Greeners featured in this issue who are making it in Silicon Valley, turning the music business on its head, or fighting hard for workers’ rights.

I’m continually awed by the extent to which the college’s faculty and staff continue to fulfill Evergreen’s mission. Despite the economic challenges of our state and our country, stories like these make me optimistic about our future and further committed to serving our students and alumni.