The Liquidation of Government Debt
AbstractHistorically, periods of high indebtedness have been associated with a rising incidence of default or restructuring of public and private debts. A subtle type of debt restructuring takes the form of "financial repression." Financial repression includes directed lending to government by captive domestic audiences (such as pension funds), explicit or implicit caps on interest rates, regulation of cross-border capital movements, and (generally) a tighter connection between government and banks. In this paper, the authors describe some of the regulatory measures and policy actions that characterized the heyday of the financial repression era. In the heavily regulated financial markets of the Bretton Woods system, several restrictions facilitated a sharp and rapid reduction in public debt/GDP ratios from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Low nominal interest rates help reduce debt servicing costs while a high incidence of negative real interest rates liquidates or erodes the real value of government debt. Thus, financial repression is most successful in liquidating debts when accompanied by a steady dose of inflation. Inflation need not take market participants entirely by surprise and, in effect, it need not be very high (by historical standards). For the advanced economies in Reinhart and Sbrancia's sample, real interest rates were negative roughly half of the time during 1945–80. For the United States and the United Kingdom, their estimates of the annual liquidation of debt via negative real interest rates amounted on average to 3 to 4 percent of GDP a year. For Australia and Italy, which recorded higher inflation rates, the liquidation effect was larger (around 5 percent per annum).
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Peterson Institute for International Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number WP11-10.
Date of creation: Apr 2011
Date of revision:
Public Debt; Financial Repression; Inflation; Interest Rates; Debt Liquidation; Default; Restructuring; Debt Reduction;
Other versions of this item:
- E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
- E3 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles
- E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
- F3 - International Economics - - International Finance
- F4 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
- H6 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt
- N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
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