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Debt and Economic Activity in the United States

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  • Benjamin M. Friedman
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    Abstract

    This paper documents a long-standing stability in the relationship between outstanding debt and economic activity in the United States, and explores the implications for capital formation of several hypotheses that could explain this observed phenomenon. The aggregate of outstanding credit liabilities of all nonfinancial borrowers in the United States bears as close a relationship to U.S. non- financial economic activity as do the more familiar asset aggregates like the money stock (however measured) or the monetary base. This stability in the debt-to-income relationship reflects the net outcome of pronounced but offsetting movements of the public and private components of the total debt aggregate. Three different hypotheses provide potential explanations for this phenomenon. Two of these, one emphasizing taxpayers' actions and one based on credit market borrowing constraints, carry the implication that increases in government debt outstanding associated with financing budget deficits crowd out private financing and hence private capital formation. The third hypothesis, which emphasizes the portfolio preferences of lenders, implies that increased government financing will not crowd out private capital formation but will cause the private sector to shift from debt to equity financing.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w0704.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0704.

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    Date of creation: Jul 1982
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    Publication status: published as Friedman, Benjamin M. "Debt and Economic Activity in the United States." The Changing Roles of Debt and Equity in Financing U.S. Capital Formation, edited by Benjamin M. Friedman, pp. 91-110. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0704

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    1. Sims, Christopher A, 1980. "Macroeconomics and Reality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(1), pages 1-48, January.
    2. William C. Brainard & James Tobin, 1968. "Pitfalls in Financial Model-Building," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 244, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    3. Benjamin M. Friedman & Milton Friedman & A. W. Clausen, 1980. "Postwar Changes in the American Financial Markets," NBER Chapters, in: The American Economy in Transition, pages 9-100 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1981. "The Relative Stability of Money and Credit "Velocities" in the United States: Evidence and Some Speculations," NBER Working Papers 0645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1978. "Crowding Out or Crowding In? Economic Consequences of Financing Government Deficits," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 9(3), pages 593-641.
    6. Thomas J. Sargent, 1975. "The observational equivalence of natural and unnatural rate theories of macroeconomics," Working Papers 48, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    7. Smith, Gary, 1975. "Pitfalls in Financial Model Building: A Clarification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 510-16, June.
    8. Stephen M. Goldfeld & Alan S. Blinder, 1972. "Some Implications of Endogenous Stabilization Policy," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 3(3), pages 585-644.
    9. David, Paul A & Scadding, John L, 1974. "Private Savings: Ultrarationality, Aggregation, and "Denison's Law."," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 225-49, Part I, M.
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    Cited by:
    1. Calomiris, Charles W & Hubbard, R Glenn, 1990. "Firm Heterogeneity, Internal Finance, and 'Credit Rationing.'," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(399), pages 90-104, March.
    2. Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Debt problems and macroeconomic policies," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 165-208.
    3. Fratianni, Michele & von Hagen, Jurgen, 2001. "The Konstanz Seminar on monetary theory and policy at 30," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 641-664, September.
    4. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1987. "New Directions in the Relationship Between Public and Private Debt," NBER Working Papers 2186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Kashyap, Anil K & Stein, Jeremy C & Wilcox, David W, 1993. "Monetary Policy and Credit Conditions: Evidence from the Composition of External Finance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 78-98, March.
    6. Smant, David / D.J.C., 2002. "Bank credit in the transmission of monetary policy: A critical review of the issues and evidence," MPRA Paper 19816, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1983. "Managing the U.S. Government Deficit in the 1980s," NBER Working Papers 1209, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Robert A. Taggart, Jr., 1984. "Have U.S. Corporations Grown Financially Weak?," NBER Working Papers 1523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Hume, Michael & Sentance, Andrew, 2009. "The global credit boom: Challenges for macroeconomics and policy," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1426-1461, December.
    10. Bayer, Christian, 2006. "Investment dynamics with fixed capital adjustment cost and capital market imperfections," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(8), pages 1909-1947, November.

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