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Ponzi Finance, Government Solvency and the Redundancy or Usefulness of Public Debt

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Abstract

We study how the government's ability to borrow depends on its capacity to tax. Using a two-period OLG growth model, we establish the following. When lump-sum taxes are unrestricted, Ponzi finance is possible, regardless of whether the economy is dynamically inefficient and regardless of the relationship between the interest rate and the growth rate. Ponzi finance, and government debt generally, is unessential or redundant: it does not enlarge the set of allocations that can be supported as competitive equilibria. When lump-sum taxes are restricted, Ponzi finance (public debt) may be essential. Central to the paper is our characterization of feasible government fiscal-financial plans for an infinite-lived government facing a sequence of finite-lived overlapping private generations. The central idea is that the government does not bankrupt private agents. We contrast our criterion with the conventional government solvency constraint. The conventional solvency constraint (the present value of future government debt is non-positive in the infinitely distant future) is neither necessary nor sufficient for our feasibility criterion. When the government must use distortionary taxes and the long-run interest rate exceeds the long-run growth rate, our feasibility criterion implies the conventional solvency constraint.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1070.

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Length: 48 pages
Date of creation: Apr 1994
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1070

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  1. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1991. "Generational accounts: a meaningful alternative to deficit accounting," Working Paper 9103, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  2. Enders, Walter & Lapan, Harvey E, 1982. "Social Security Taxation and Intergenerational Risk Sharing," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 23(3), pages 647-58, October.
  3. Andrew B. Abel, 1988. "The Implications of Insurance for the Efficacy of Fiscal Policy," NBER Working Papers 2517, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Olivier Jean Blanchard & Philippe Weil, 1992. "Dynamic Efficiency, the Riskless Rate, and Debt Ponzi Games Under Uncertainty," NBER Working Papers 3992, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Calvo, Guillermo A & Obstfeld, Maurice, 1988. "Optimal Time-Consistent Fiscal Policy with Finite Lifetimes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 411-32, March.
  6. Buiter, Willem H & Patel, U, 1990. "Debt, Deficits and Inflation: An Application to the Public Finance of India," CEPR Discussion Papers 408, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Corsetti, G., 1990. "Testing For Solvency Of Public Sector: An Application To Italy," Papers 617, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  8. Martin Feldstein, 1986. "The Effects of Fiscal Policies When Incomes are Uncertain: A Contradiction to Ricardian Equivalence," NBER Working Papers 2062, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Willem H. Buiter, 1996. "Generational Accounts, Aggregate Savings, and Intergenerational Distribution," IMF Working Papers 96/76, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Uhlig, H.F.H.V.S., 1997. "Capital Income Taxation and the Sustainability of Permanent Primary Deficits," Discussion Paper 1997-11, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Polackova, Hana, 1997. "Population aging and financing of government liabilities in New Zealand," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1703, The World Bank.
  4. Ioan Talpos & Cosmin Enache, 2008. "Fiscal Policy Sustainability In Romania," Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, Faculty of Sciences, "1 Decembrie 1918" University, Alba Iulia, vol. 1(10), pages 23.

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