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The impact of high government debt on economic growth and its channels: An empirical investigation for the euro area


  • Checherita-Westphal, Cristina
  • Rother, Philipp


This paper investigates the average impact of government debt on per-capita GDP growth in twelve euro area countries over a period of about 40 years starting in 1970. It finds a non-linear impact of debt on growth with a turning point – beyond which the government debt-to-GDP ratio has a negative impact on long-term growth – at about 90–100% of GDP. Confidence intervals for the debt turning point suggest that the negative growth effect of high debt may start already from levels of around 70 to 80% of GDP. The channels through which government debt is found to have a non-linear impact on the economic growth rate are private saving, public investment and total factor productivity.

Suggested Citation

  • Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2012. "The impact of high government debt on economic growth and its channels: An empirical investigation for the euro area," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1392-1405.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:56:y:2012:i:7:p:1392-1405 DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2012.06.007

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Alan Aschauer, 2000. "Do states optimize? Public capital and economic growth," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 34(3), pages 343-363.
    2. Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2010. "The impact of high and growing government debt on economic growth: an empirical investigation for the euro area," Working Paper Series 1237, European Central Bank.
    3. Gilles Saint-Paul, 1992. "Fiscal Policy in an Endogenous Growth Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1243-1259.
    4. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
    5. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 573-578, May.
    6. Ardagna Silvia & Caselli Francesco & Lane Timothy, 2007. "Fiscal Discipline and the Cost of Public Debt Service: Some Estimates for OECD Countries," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-35, August.
    7. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2013. "Debt and growth: New evidence for the euro area," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 809-821.
    8. Arne Risa Hole, 2007. "A comparison of approaches to estimating confidence intervals for willingness to pay measures," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(8), pages 827-840.
    9. Catherine Pattillo & Hélène Poirson & Luca Antonio Ricci, 2011. "External Debt and Growth," Review of Economics and Institutions, Università di Perugia, vol. 2(3).
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    11. David J. Smyth & Yu Hsing, 1995. "In Search Of An Optimal Debt Ratio For Economic Growth," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 13(4), pages 51-59, October.
    12. Aizenman, Joshua & Kletzer, Kenneth, 2007. "Economic Growth with Constraints on Tax Revenues and Public Debt: Implications for Fiscal Policy and Cross-Country Differences," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt9421k9hq, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
    13. Schclarek, Alfredo, 2004. "Debt and Economic Growth in Developing and Industrial Countries," Working Papers 2005:34, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    14. Masson, Paul R & Bayoumi, Tamim & Samiei, Hossein, 1998. "International Evidence on the Determinants of Private Saving," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 12(3), pages 483-501, September.
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    More about this item


    Public debt; Economic growth; Fiscal policy;

    JEL classification:

    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy


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