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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. Calvo, Guillermo A & Obstfeld, Maurice, 1988. "Optimal Time-Consistent Fiscal Policy with Finite Lifetimes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 411-32, March.
  2. 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.
  3. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1991. "Generational Accounts - A Meaningful Alternative to Deficit Accounting," NBER Working Papers 3589, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Blanchard Olivier & Weil Philippe, 2001. "Dynamic Efficiency, the Riskless Rate, and Debt Ponzi Games under Uncertainty," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-23, November.
  5. Buiter, Willem H. & Patel, Urjit R., 1992. "Debt, deficits, and inflation: An application to the public finances of India," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 171-205, March.
  6. 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.
  7. Andrew B. Abel, . "The Implications of Insurance for the Efficacy of Fiscal Policy," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 06-88, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  8. Corsetti, G., 1990. "Testing For Solvency Of Public Sector: An Application To Italy," Papers 617, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
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Cited by:
  1. Willem H. Buiter, 1995. "Generational Accounts, Aggregate Saving and Intergenerational Distribution," NBER Working Papers 5087, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Polackova, Hana, 1997. "Population aging and financing of government liabilities in New Zealand," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1703, The World Bank.
  3. 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.
  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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