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Debt Intolerance


  • Carmen M. Reinhart

    (International Monetary Fund)

  • Kenneth S. Rogoff

    (International Monetary Fund)

  • Miguel A. Savastano

    (International Monetary Fund)


This paper introduces the concept of "debt intolerance," which manifests itself in the extreme duress many emerging market economies experience at levels of indebtedness that would seem manageable by advanced country standards. The paper argues that "safe" external debt-to-GNP thresholds for debt-intolerant countries depend on the country's default and inflation history and may be as low as 15 percent in some cases. Debt intolerance is linked to the phenomenon of serial default that has plagued many countries over the past two centuries. Understanding and measuring debt intolerance is fundamental to assessing the problems of debt sustainability, debt restructuring, capital market integration, and the scope for international lending to ameliorate crises. The paper makes a first pass at quantifying debt intolerance, including delineating debtors' "clubs" and regions of vulnerability, based on a history of credit events for a large number of countries going back to the 1820s.

Suggested Citation

  • Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff & Miguel A. Savastano, 2003. "Debt Intolerance," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(1), pages 1-74.
  • Handle: RePEc:bin:bpeajo:v:34:y:2003:i:2003-1:p:1-74

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Easterly, William R., 1989. "Fiscal adjustment and deficit financing during the debt crisis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 138, The World Bank.
    2. William R. Cline, 1995. "International Debt Reexamined," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 46.
    3. Graciela L. Kaminsky & Carmen M. Reinhart & Carlos A. VĂ©gh, 2005. "When It Rains, It Pours: Procyclical Capital Flows and Macroeconomic Policies," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2004, Volume 19, pages 11-82 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Peter J Montiel & Samir Jahjah, 2003. "Exchange Rate Policy and Debt Crises in Emerging Economies," IMF Working Papers 03/60, International Monetary Fund.
    5. Ayhan Kose & Kenneth Rogoff & Eswar S Prasad & Shang-Jin Wei, 2003. "Effects of Financial Globalization on Developing Countries; Some Empirical Evidence," IMF Occasional Papers 220, International Monetary Fund.
    6. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2004. "The Modern History of Exchange Rate Arrangements: A Reinterpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 1-48.
    7. Carmen M. Reinhart, 2002. "Default, Currency Crises, and Sovereign Credit Ratings," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 16(2), pages 151-170, August.
    8. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 1996. "Foundations of International Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262150476, July.
    9. M. Ayhan Kose & Eswar Prasad & Kenneth Rogoff & Shang-Jin Wei, 2009. "Financial Globalization: A Reappraisal," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 56(2), pages 143-197, June.
    10. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1989. "Sovereign Debt: Is to Forgive to Forget?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 43-50, March.
    11. Sims, Christopher A, 2001. "Fiscal Consequences for Mexico of Adopting the Dollar," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 33(2), pages 597-616, May.
    12. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Olivier Jeanne, 2006. "The Elusive Gains from International Financial Integration," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(3), pages 715-741.
    13. Kenneth Rogoff, 1999. "International Institutions for Reducing Global Financial Instability," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(4), pages 21-42, Fall.
    14. Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent R. Reinhart, 2003. "Twin Fallacies About Exchange Rate Policy in Emerging Markets," NBER Working Papers 9670, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1990. "Cleaning Up Third World Debt without Getting Taken to the Cleaners," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 31-42, Winter.
    16. John Williamson, 2002. "Is Brazil Next?," Policy Briefs PB02-07, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    17. Morris Goldstein, 2003. "Debt Sustainability, Brazil, and the IMF," Working Paper Series WP03-1, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    18. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff & Miguel A. Savastano, 2014. "Addicted to Dollars," Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 15(1), pages 1-50, May.
    19. Giovannini, Alberto & de Melo, Martha, 1993. "Government Revenue from Financial Repression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 953-963, September.
    20. Velasco, Andres, 1996. "Fixed exchange rates: Credibility, flexibility and multiplicity," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 1023-1035, April.
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    More about this item


    macroeconomics; Debt Intolerance;

    JEL classification:

    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • F32 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Current Account Adjustment; Short-term Capital Movements
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative


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