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The social value of risk-free government debt

  • Stacey Schreft

    ()

  • Bruce Smith

This paper considers whether eliminating the stock of government debt outstanding would reduce welfare. It models an economy with three assets—currency, government bonds, and storage, a transactions role for money, and a demand for liquidity and thus a role for banks. The Friedman rule is not optimal in this economy, so there is potentially a role for interest-bearing, risk-free government bonds. Because the government must raise enough revenue to meet its interest obligations on any bonds outstanding, the social value of government debt hinges on whether the benefits from greater portfolio diversification outweigh the costs associated with the necessary revenue-raising efforts. The paper shows that a positive stock of government debt is optimal only if interest payments on the debt are financed via money creation, agents are not too risk averse, there is a primary government budget deficit, and the economy is operating on the bad side of the Laffer curve. But under these conditions, welfare would be even higher if monetary policy were conducted to put the economy on the good side of the Laffer curve and there were no government bonds outstanding. Thus, there is little support for keeping a stock of interest-bearing, risk-free government debt outstanding.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10436-007-0073-3
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Article provided by Springer in its journal Annals of Finance.

Volume (Year): 4 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 (March)
Pages: 131-155

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Handle: RePEc:kap:annfin:v:4:y:2008:i:2:p:131-155
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=112370

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  1. Aiyagari, S. Rao & Gertler, Mark, 1990. "Asset Returns With Transactions Costs And Uninsured Individual Risk: A Stage Iii Exercise," Working Papers 90-43, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
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  3. Aiyagari, S. Rao & McGrattan, Ellen R., 1998. "The optimum quantity of debt," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 447-469, October.
  4. de V. Cavalcanti, Tiago V. & Villamil, Anne P., 2003. "Optimal Inflation Tax And Structural Reform," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(03), pages 333-362, June.
  5. Schreft, Stacey L & Smith, Bruce D, 2002. "The Conduct of Monetary Policy with a Shrinking Stock of Government Debt," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 34(3), pages 848-82, August.
  6. Beatrix Paal & Bruce D. Smith, 2001. "The sub-optimality of the Friedman rule and the optimum quantity of money," IEHAS Discussion Papers 0113, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
  7. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
  8. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe, 1998. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy," Staff Report 251, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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  11. Stacey L. Schreft & Bruce D. Smith, 1997. "The evolution of cash transactions: some implications for monetary policy," Financial Services working paper 97-04, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  12. Narayana Kocherlakota, 2003. "Societal Benefits of Illiquid Bonds," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000300, David K. Levine.
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  15. Bruce D. Smith, 2003. "Taking intermediation seriously," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 1319-1377.
  16. S Rao Aiyagari & Mark Gertler, 1997. "Asset Returns with transaction costs and uninsured individual risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 648, David K. Levine.
  17. Caporale, Tony & Grier, Kevin B, 2000. "Political Regime Change and the Real Interest Rate," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 32(3), pages 320-34, August.
  18. George J. Hall & Stefan Krieger, 2000. "Tax Smoothing Implications of the Federal Debt Paydown," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(2), pages 253-302.
  19. Bhattacharya, Joydeep & Guzman, Mark G. & Smith, Bruce D., 1998. "Some Even More Unpleasant Monetarist Arithmetic," Staff General Research Papers 5084, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
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  23. Villamil, Anne P., 1988. "Price discriminating monetary policy : A nonuniform pricing approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 385-392, April.
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