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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. 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.
    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. 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.
    4. Sargent, Thomas J, 1976. "The Observational Equivalence of Natural and Unnatural Rate Theories of Macroeconomics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(3), pages 631-40, June.
    5. Smith, Gary, 1975. "Pitfalls in Financial Model Building: A Clarification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 510-16, June.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. Sims, Christopher A, 1980. "Macroeconomics and Reality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(1), pages 1-48, January.
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    Cited by:
    1. Charles W. Calomiris & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1988. "Firm Heterogeneity, Internal Finance, and `Credit Rationing'," NBER Working Papers 2497, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Hume, Michael & Sentance, Andrew, 2009. "The global credit boom: challenges for macroeconomics and policy," Discussion Papers 27, Monetary Policy Committee Unit, Bank of England.
    6. Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Debt Problems and Macroeconomic Policies," NBER Working Papers 2061, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1987. "New Directions in the Relationship Between Public and Private Debt," NBER Working Papers 2186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1983. "Managing the U.S. Government Deficit in the 1980s," NBER Working Papers 1209, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Robert A. Taggart, Jr., 1984. "Have U.S. Corporations Grown Financially Weak?," NBER Working Papers 1523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. 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.

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