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Wealth inequality and the optimal level of government debt

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  • Sigrid Röhrs
  • Christoph Winter

Abstract

In this paper, we quantitatively analyze to what extent a benevolent government should issue debt in a model where households are subject to idiosyncratic productivity shocks, insurance markets are missing and borrowing is restricted. In this environment, issuing government bonds facilitates saving for self-insurance. Despite this, we find that in a calibrated version of the model that is consistent with the skewed wealth and earnings distribution observable in the U.S., the government should buy private bonds, and not issue public debt in the long run. The reason is that in the U.S., a large fraction of the population has almost no wealth or is even in debt. The wealth-poor, however, do not profit from an increase in the interest rate following an increase in public debt. Instead, they gain from higher wages that result from a reduction in debt. We show that even when the short run costs of higher capital taxation are taken into account, it still pays off to reduce government debt on overall. Moreover, we find that endogenizing household’s borrowing constraints by assuming limited commitment leads to even higher asset levels being optimal in the long run.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Economics - University of Zurich in its series ECON - Working Papers with number 051.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:051

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Keywords: Government debt; endogenous borrowing constraints; incomplete markets; crowding out;

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  1. Albert Marcet & Thomas J. Sargent & Juha Seppala, 1996. "Optimal taxation without state-contingent debt," Economics Working Papers 170, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2001.
  2. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michele Tertilt, 2006. "Accounting for the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies," University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute Working Papers 20066, University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute.
  3. DAVILA, Julio & HONG, Jay H. & KRUSELL, Per & RIOS-RULL, José-Victor, . "Constrained efficiency in the neoclassical growth model with uninsurable idiosyncratic shocks," CORE Discussion Papers RP -2463, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  4. Satyajit Chatterjee & Dean Corbae & Makoto Nakajima & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2007. "A quantitative theory of unsecured consumer credit with risk of default," Working Papers 07-16, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  5. Jonathan Heathcote, 2005. "Fiscal Policy with Heterogeneous Agents and Incomplete Markets," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 72(1), pages 161-188.
  6. Piero Gottardi & Atsushi Kajii & Tomoyuki Nakajima, 2010. "Constrained Inefficiency and Optimal Taxation with Uninsurable Risks," KIER Working Papers 694, Kyoto University, Institute of Economic Research.
  7. Kehoe, Timothy J & Levine, David K, 2001. "Liquidity Constrained Markets versus Debt Constrained Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(3), pages 575-98, May.
  8. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  9. Acemoglu, Daron & Golosov, Mikhail & Tsyvinski, Aleh, 2008. "Markets versus governments," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 159-189, January.
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As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Wealth inequality and the optimal level of government debt
    by Christian Zimmermann in NEP-DGE blog on 2012-01-06 20:43:50
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Cited by:
  1. Fève, Patrick & Matheron, Julien & Sahuc, Jean-Guillaume, 2012. "The Laffer Curve in an Incomplete-Market Economy," IDEI Working Papers 707, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse, revised Jul 2013.

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