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The Safe Assets Shortage Conundrum


  • Ricardo J. Caballero
  • Emmanuel Farhi
  • Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas


A safe asset is a simple debt instrument that is expected to preserve its value during adverse systemic events. The supply of safe assets, private and public, has historically been concentrated in a small number of advanced economies, most prominently the United States. Over the last few decades, with minor cyclical interruptions, the supply of safe assets has not kept up with global demand. The reason is straightforward: the collective growth rate of the advanced economies that produce safe assets has been lower than the world's growth rate, which has been driven disproportionately by the high growth rate of high-saving emerging economies such as China. The signature of this growing shortage is a steady increase in the price of safe assets; equivalently, global safe interest rates must decline, as has been the case since the 1980s. The early literature, brought to light by Ben Bernanke's famous "savings glut" speech of 2005, focused on a general shortage of assets without isolating its safe asset component. The distinction, however, has become increasingly important over time, particularly in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis and its sequels. We begin by describing the main facts and macroeconomic implications of safe asset shortages. Faced with such a structural conundrum, what are the likely short- to medium-term escape valves? We analyze four of them, each with its own macroeconomic and financial trade-offs.

Suggested Citation

  • Ricardo J. Caballero & Emmanuel Farhi & Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 2017. "The Safe Assets Shortage Conundrum," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(3), pages 29-46, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:3:p:29-46 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.3.29

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Duarte, Fernando M. & Rosa, Carlo, 2015. "The equity risk premium: a review of models," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue 2, pages 39-57.
    2. Caballero, Ricardo & Farhi, Emmanuel & Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier, 2017. "Rents, Technical Change, and Risk Premia: Accounting for Secular Trends in Interest Rates, Returns to Capital, Earnings Yields, and Factor Shares," CEPR Discussion Papers 11833, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Jeremy C. Stein, 2012. "Monetary Policy as Financial Stability Regulation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 57-95.
    4. Caballero, Ricardo & Farhi, Emmanuel & Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier, 2015. "Global Imbalances and Currency Wars at the ZLB," CEPR Discussion Papers 10905, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Ricardo J. Caballero & Emmanuel Farhi & Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, 2017. "Rents, Technical Change, and Risk Premia Accounting for Secular Trends in Interest Rates, Returns on Capital, Earning Yields, and Factor Shares," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 614-620, May.
    6. Koh, Dongya; Santaeulàlia-Llopis, Raül; Zheng, Yu, 2015. "Labor share decline and intellectual property products capital," Economics Working Papers ECO2015/05, European University Institute.
    7. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1998. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(1), pages 1-40, February.
    8. Gauti B. Eggertsson & Neil R. Mehrotra & Jacob A. Robbins, 2017. "A Model of Secular Stagnation: Theory and Quantitative Evaluation," NBER Working Papers 23093, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andreas Steiner & Sven Steinkamp & Frank Westermann, 2017. "Exit Strategies, Capital Flight and Speculative Attacks: Europe's Version of the Trilemma," CESifo Working Paper Series 6753, CESifo Group Munich.

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    JEL classification:

    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E43 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Interest Rates: Determination, Term Structure, and Effects
    • E44 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
    • G20 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - General
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt


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