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On the needed quantity of government debt

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  • Kathryn Birkeland
  • Edward C. Prescott

Abstract

People are enjoying longer retirement periods, and population growth is slowing and, in some countries, falling. In this article, we determine the implications of these demographic changes for the needed amount of government debt. If tax rates and the transfer share of gross national income (GNI) are both high, the needed debt is near zero. With such a system, however, huge deadweight losses are incurred as a result of the high tax rate on labor income. With a savings system, a large government debt to annual GNI ratio is needed. In a country with early retirement and no population growth, the needed government debt is as large as five times GNI, and welfare is as much as 24 percent higher in terms of lifetime consumption equivalents in the savings system relative to the tax-and-transfer system.

Suggested Citation

  • Kathryn Birkeland & Edward C. Prescott, 2007. "On the needed quantity of government debt," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Nov, pages 2-15.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmqr:y:2007:i:nov:p:2-15:n:v.31no.1
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2003. "Average Debt and Equity Returns: Puzzling?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 392-397, May.
    2. Hansen, Gary D., 1985. "Indivisible labor and the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 309-327, November.
    3. Andrew B. Abel & N. Gregory Mankiw & Lawrence H. Summers & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1989. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 56(1), pages 1-19.
    4. Edward C. Prescott, 2006. "The Transformation of Macroeconomic Policy and Research," The American Economist, Sage Publications, vol. 50(1), pages 3-20, March.
    5. Aiyagari, S. Rao & McGrattan, Ellen R., 1998. "The optimum quantity of debt," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 447-469, October.
    6. Robert W. Fogel, 2005. "Changes in the Physiology of Aging during the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 11233, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Edward C. Prescott, 2006. "Nobel Lecture: The Transformation of Macroeconomic Policy and Research," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(2), pages 203-235, April.
    8. Chamley, Christophe, 1986. "Optimal Taxation of Capital Income in General Equilibrium with Infinite Lives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(3), pages 607-622, May.
    9. Ellen R. McGrattan & Edward C. Prescott, 2000. "Is the stock market overvalued?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall, pages 20-40.
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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Villieu, 2011. "Quel objectif pour la dette publique à moyen terme ?," Revue d'économie financière, Association d'économie financière, vol. 0(3), pages 79-98.
    2. Hillebrand, Marten, 2011. "On the role of labor supply for the optimal size of Social Security," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 35(7), pages 1091-1105, July.
    3. repec:eee:macchp:v2-2493 is not listed on IDEAS

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    Keywords

    Debt;

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