Since the Global Crisis, sovereign debt levels have exploded in many OECD countries. This column presents a new measure of government debt – maximum sustainable debt. This measure takes account of the fact that a shortfall in growth naturally increases the probability of default, while allowing for the possibility of rollover. Applications to recent data suggest that without sufficient institutional constraints, governments will generally borrow up to a level close to the maximum that can be sustained.
Fabrice Collard, Habib Michel, Jean-Charles Rochet, 13 July 2016
Sebastian Edwards, 04 March 2015
There were 24 sovereign defaults and debt restructurings between 1997 and 2013. Using data on 180 debt restructurings – for both sovereign bonds and sovereign syndicated bank loans – this column argues that the roughly 75% ‘haircut’ Argentina imposed on its creditors in 2005 was an outlier. Greece’s ‘haircut’ of roughly 64% in 2012, by contrast, was in line with previous experience.
Lars Feld, Christoph Schmidt, Isabel Schnabel, Benjamin Weigert, Volker Wieland, 20 February 2015
Claims that ‘austerity has failed’ are popular, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. This column argues that this narrative is factually wrong and ignores the reasons underlying the Greek crisis. The worst move for Greece would be to return to its old ways. Greece needs to realise that things could actually become much worse than they are now, particularly if membership in the Eurozone cannot be assured. Instead of looking back, Greece needs to continue building a functioning state and a functioning market economy.
Julio Escolano, Laura Jaramillo, Carlos Mulas-Granados, Gilbert Terrier, 27 February 2015
Fiscal consolidation is back at the top of the policy agenda. This column provides historical context by examining 91 episodes of fiscal consolidation in advanced and developing economies between 1945 and 2012. By focusing on cases in which the adjustment was necessary and desired in order to stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio, the authors find larger average fiscal adjustments than previous studies. Most consolidation episodes resulted in stabilisation of the debt-to-GDP ratio, but at a new, higher level.
Simon Wren-Lewis, 30 January 2015
The anaemic recovery from the Global Crisis and the downward trend in real interest rates since 1980 have revived interest in the idea of secular stagnation. This column argues that if the US, UK, and Eurozone had not pursued contractionary fiscal policies from 2010 onwards, the recovery would not have been so slow and nominal interest rates would no longer be at the zero lower bound. Expanding the stock of government debt would have ameliorated, not worsened, the shortage of safe assets.
Paul De Grauwe, 07 July 2014
There has been a stark contrast between the experiences of Spain and the UK since the Global Crisis. This column argues that although the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions policy has been instrumental in reducing Spanish government bond yields, it has not made the Spanish fiscal position sustainable. Although the UK has implemented less austerity than Spain since the start of the crisis, a large currency depreciation has helped to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio
Jochen Andritzky, 05 August 2012
Public debt held by non-residents has been on the rise over the last few decades – that is until the global crisis. This column looks at how the ownership of government bonds in the G20 and the Eurozone. It finds that increased foreign bondholders bring costs as well as benefits.
Olivier Jeanne, Patrick Bolton, 25 April 2011
The Eurozone crisis has thrown into relief the dangers of financial contagion. The authors of CEPR DP8358 analyze the causes and consequences of sovereign debt crises in zones with financial integration. They conclude that without fiscal integration, the supply of government debt in these areas reaches an inefficient equilibrium, with safer governments inefficiently issuing too little of their high-quality debt and riskier governments issuing too much.
Hans Gersbach, 14 November 2010
How can excessive public debt be avoided? This column proposes a novel solution: “vote-share bonds”. These government bonds are tied to the share of the vote that the adoption of the underlying deficit has received in parliament. A bond with a higher vote-share is considered senior. Vote-share bonds inspire fiscal responsibility, while retaining the flexibility to stabilise negative macroeconomic shocks.
Joshua Aizenman, Gurnain Pasricha, 07 November 2010
Amid government concern over public debt, one measure – the debt-to-GDP ratio – has gained prominence above all others. This column presents forecasts of the fiscal burden of debt for each OECD country. Looking at past as well as current data, it argues that prudent fiscal policy should involve both short-term stabilisation and forward-looking fiscal reforms. Finding a balance between the two is crucial.
Hans Gersbach, 07 September 2010
The Eurozone crisis and debate over fiscal stimulus have emphasized the importance of responsible government debt management. CEPR DP 8001 develops a political economy model in which politicians prop up their reelection chances with debt-financed public projects but postpone the delivery of the projects until the next term. The author proposes to remedy this by instituting debt-threshold contracts which, if violated, would disqualify politicians from standing for reelection. He suggests that such contracts do not impede the stabilization of negative macroeconomic shocks.
Jacopo Carmassi, Stefano Micossi, 24 June 2010
As the recent austerity measures can testify, Europe’s leaders are acutely concerned about government debt. This column tracks policy announcements from the start of the Eurozone crisis in December 2009, arguing that governments may have contributed to turmoil with their public display of confusion – ultimately undermining credibility. But if Eurozone governments show unity of purpose, this credibility can be restored.