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Public debt, economic growth and nonlinear effects: Myth or reality?

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  • Balázs Égert

Abstract

The economics profession seems to increasingly endorse the existence of a strongly negative nonlinear effect of public debt on economic growth. Reinhart and Rogoff (2010) were the first to point out that a public debt-to-GDP ratio higher than 90% of GDP is associated with considerably lower economic performance in advanced and emerging economies alike. A string of recent empirical papers broadly validates this threshold value. This paper seeks to contribute to this literature by putting a variant of the Reinhart-Rogoff dataset to a formal econometric testing. Using nonlinear threshold models, there is some evidence in favour of a negative nonlinear relationship between debt and growth. But these results are very sensitive to the time dimension and country coverage considered, data frequency (annual data vs. multi-year averages) and assumptions on the minimum number of observations required in each nonlinear regime. In addition, we also show that nonlinear effects can kick in at much lower levels of public debt (between 20% and 60% of GDP). These results, based on bivariate regressions on secular time series, are largely confirmed on a shorter dataset (1960-2010) when using a multivariate growth framework that accounts for traditional drivers of long-term economic growth and model uncertainty. Nonlinear effects might be more complex and difficult to model than previously thought. Instability might be a result of nonlinear effects changing over time, across countries and economic conditions. Further research is certainly needed to fully understand the link between public debt and growth.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Paris West - Nanterre la Défense, EconomiX in its series EconomiX Working Papers with number 2012-44.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:drm:wpaper:2012-44

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Keywords: Public debt; economic growth; nonlinearity; threshold effects;

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  1. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 573-78, May.
  2. Doppelhofer, G. & Cuaresma, J.C., 2007. "Nonlinearities in Cross-Country Growth Regressions: A Bayesian Averaging of Thresholds (BAT) Approach," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0706, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  3. Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent R. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2012. "Public Debt Overhangs: Advanced-Economy Episodes since 1800," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 69-86, Summer.
  4. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2011. "From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 1676-1706, August.
  5. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2012. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," POLIS Working Papers 168, Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice - POLIS.
  6. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
  7. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2013. "Debt and growth: New evidence for the euro area," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 809-821.
  8. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2010. "Public Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 10/174, International Monetary Fund.
  9. Bruce E. Hansen, 1997. "Threshold effects in non-dynamic panels: Estimation, testing and inference," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 365, Boston College Department of Economics.
  10. Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2010. "The impact of high and growing government debt on economic growth: an empirical investigation for the euro area," Working Paper Series 1237, European Central Bank.
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Cited by:
  1. Luiz de Mello, 2013. "What Can Fiscal Policy Do in the Current Recession? A Review of Recent Literature and Policy Options," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 204(1), pages 113-139, March.
  2. Mthuli Ncube & Zuzana Brixiová, 2013. "Public Debt Sustainability in Africa: Building Resilience and Challenges Ahead," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series wp1053, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  3. Ruthira Naraidoo & Leroi Raputsoane, 2013. "Debt sustainability and financial crises in South Africa," Working Papers 201352, University of Pretoria, Department of Economics.
  4. Hansjörg Blöchliger, 2013. "Fiscal Consolidation Across Government Levels - Part 1. How Much, What Policies?," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1070, OECD Publishing.
  5. David Turner & Francesca Spinelli, 2013. "The Effect of Government Debt, External Debt and their Interaction on OECD Interest Rates," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1103, OECD Publishing.
  6. Randall S. Jones & Satoshi Urasawa, 2013. "Restoring Japan's Fiscal Sustainability," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1050, OECD Publishing.
  7. Douglas Sutherland & Peter Hoeller, 2012. "Debt and Macroeconomic Stability: An Overview of the Literature and Some Empirics," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1006, OECD Publishing.
  8. Douglas Sutherland & Peter Hoeller & Rossana Merola & Volker Ziemann, 2012. "Debt and Macroeconomic Stability," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1003, OECD Publishing.
  9. Ugo Panizza & Andrea F. Presbitero, 2013. "Public Debt and Economic Growth in Advanced Economies: A Survey," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 149(II), pages 175-204, June.

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