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The social value of risk-free government debt

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  • Stacey L. Schreft
  • Bruce D. Smith

Abstract

This paper considers whether eliminating the stock of government debt outstanding would reduce welfare. It models an economy with three assets—currency, government bonds, and storage, a transactions role for money, and a demand for liquidity and thus a role for banks. The Friedman rule is not optimal in this economy, so there is potentially a role for interest-bearing, risk-free government bonds. Because the government must raise enough revenue to meet its interest obligations on any bonds outstanding, the social value of government debt hinges on whether the benefits from greater portfolio diversification outweigh the costs associated with the necessary revenue-raising efforts. The paper shows that a positive stock of government debt is optimal only if interest payments on the debt are financed via money creation, agents are not too risk averse, there is a primary government budget deficit, and the economy is operating on the bad side of the Laffer curve. But under these conditions, welfare would be even higher if monetary policy were conducted to put the economy on the good side of the Laffer curve and there were no government bonds outstanding. Thus, there is little support for keeping a stock of interest-bearing, risk-free government debt outstanding.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in its series Research Working Paper with number RWP 03-02.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedkrw:rwp03-02

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Keywords: Fiscal policy ; Monetary policy ; Debts; Public;

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References

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  1. Holmstrom, B & Tirole, J, 1996. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," Working papers 96-21, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Villamil, Anne P., 1988. "Price discriminating monetary policy : A nonuniform pricing approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 385-392, April.
  3. S. Rao Aiyagari & Ellen R. McGrattan, 1994. "The optimal quantity of debt," Working Papers 538, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Bruce D. Smith, 2003. "Taking intermediation seriously," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 1319-1377.
  5. Schreft, Stacey L & Smith, Bruce D, 2002. "The Conduct of Monetary Policy with a Shrinking Stock of Government Debt," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 34(3), pages 848-82, August.
  6. Smith, Bruce D. & Villamil, Anne P., 1998. "Government borrowing using bonds with randomly determined returns: Welfare improving randomization in the context of deficit finance," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 351-370, April.
  7. Abel, Andrew B, et al, 1989. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 56(1), pages 1-19, January.
  8. Stacey L. Schreft & Bruce D. Smith, 1999. "The evolution of cash transactions : some implications for monetary policy," Research Working Paper 99-02, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  9. Kocherlakota, Narayana R., 2003. "Societal benefits of illiquid bonds," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 179-193, February.
  10. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
  11. Thomas J. Sargent & Neil Wallace, 1981. "Some unpleasant monetarist arithmetic," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall.
  12. Townsend, Robert M, 1987. "Economic Organization with Limited Communication," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 954-71, December.
  13. Chari, V.V. & Kehoe, Patrick J., 1999. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 26, pages 1671-1745 Elsevier.
  14. Douglas W. Diamond & Philip H. Dybvig, 2000. "Bank runs, deposit insurance, and liquidity," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 14-23.
  15. Beatrix Paal & Bruce D. Smith, 2001. "The sub-optimality of the Friedman rule and the optimum quantity of money," IEHAS Discussion Papers 0113, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
  16. repec:nbr:nberwo:6197 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Bruce Smith & J. Bhattacharya & Mark Guzman, 1998. "Some Even More Unpleasant Monetarist Arithmetic," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 31(3), pages 596-623, August.
  18. de V. Cavalcanti, Tiago V. & Villamil, Anne P., 2003. "Optimal Inflation Tax And Structural Reform," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(03), pages 333-362, June.
  19. Aiyagari, S. Rao & Gertler, Mark, 1991. "Asset returns with transactions costs and uninsured individual risk," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 311-331, June.
  20. Romer, David, 1993. "Why Should Governments Issue Bonds?," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 163-75, May.
  21. Woodford, Michael, 1990. "Public Debt as Private Liquidity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 382-88, May.
  22. Caporale, Tony & Grier, Kevin B, 2000. "Political Regime Change and the Real Interest Rate," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 32(3), pages 320-34, August.
  23. George J. Hall & Stefan Krieger, 2000. "Tax Smoothing Implications of the Federal Debt Paydown," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(2), pages 253-302.
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Cited by:
  1. Joseph H. Haslag & Antoine Martin, 2005. "Optimality of the Friedman rule in an overlapping generations model with spatial separation," Staff Reports 225, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  2. Joe Haslag & Antoine Martin, 2003. "Optimality of the Friedman Rule in Overlapping Generations Model with Spatial Separation," Working Papers 0306, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
  3. Bhattacharya, Joydeep & Singh, Rajesh, 2008. "Optimal choice of monetary policy instruments in an economy with real and liquidity shocks," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 1273-1311, April.

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