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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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  1. 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.
  2. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1996. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," NBER Working Papers 5817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  5. Townsend, Robert M, 1987. "Economic Organization with Limited Communication," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 954-71, December.
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  7. 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.
  8. Robert J. Barro, 1997. "Optimal Management of Indexed and Nominal Debt," NBER Working Papers 6197, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Kocherlakota, Narayana R., 2003. "Societal benefits of illiquid bonds," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 179-193, February.
  10. Bhattacharya, Joydeep & Guzman, Mark G. & Smith, Bruce D., 1998. "Some Even More Unpleasant Monetarist Arithmetic," Staff General Research Papers 5084, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  11. 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.
  12. Schreft, Stacey L. & Smith, Bruce D., 2000. "The evolution of cash transactions: Some implications for monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 97-120, August.
  13. Villamil, Anne P., 1988. "Price discriminating monetary policy : A nonuniform pricing approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 385-392, April.
  14. Beatrix Paal & Bruce D. Smith, 2013. "The sub-optimality of the Friedman rule and the optimum quantity of money," Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 14(2), pages 911-948, November.
  15. Smith, B.D. & Villamil, A.P., 1991. "Government Borrowing using Bonds with Randomly Determined Returns : Welfare Improving Randomization in the Context of Deficit Finance," RCER Working Papers 287, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  16. 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.
  17. Bruce D. Smith, 2003. "Taking intermediation seriously," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 1319-1377.
  18. Romer, David, 1993. "Why Should Governments Issue Bonds?," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 163-75, May.
  19. Stacey L. Schreft & Bruce D. Smith, 2001. "The conduct of monetary policy with a shrinking stock of government debt," Research Working Paper RWP 01-09, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  20. Diamond, Douglas W & Dybvig, Philip H, 1983. "Bank Runs, Deposit Insurance, and Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(3), pages 401-19, June.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. 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.
  2. Joseph H. Haslag & Antoine Martin, 2007. "Optimality of the Friedman Rule in an Overlapping Generations Model with Spatial Separation," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 39(7), pages 1741-1758, October.
  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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