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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
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  1. Smith, Bruce D. & Villamil, Anne P., 1998. "Government borrowing using bonds with randomly determined returns: Welfare improving randomization in the context of deficit finance," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 351-370, April.
  2. 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.
  3. Stacey L. Schreft & Bruce D. Smith, 2002. "The conduct of monetary policy with a shrinking stock of government debt," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 848-886.
  4. Diamond, Douglas W & Dybvig, Philip H, 1983. "Bank Runs, Deposit Insurance, and Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(3), pages 401-19, June.
  5. Townsend, Robert M, 1987. "Economic Organization with Limited Communication," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 954-71, December.
  6. Andrew B. Abel & N. Gregory Mankiw & Lawrence H. Summers & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1986. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 2097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1996. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," NBER Working Papers 5817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Bruce D. Smith, 2003. "Taking intermediation seriously," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 1319-1377.
  10. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe, 1999. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy," NBER Working Papers 6891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Narayana Kocherlakota, 2003. "Societal Benefits of Illiquid Bonds," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000300, David K. Levine.
  12. Villamil, Anne P., 1988. "Price discriminating monetary policy : A nonuniform pricing approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 385-392, April.
  13. S Rao Aiyagari & Mark Gertler, 1997. "Asset Returns with transaction costs and uninsured individual risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 648, David K. Levine.
  14. Stacey L. Schreft & Bruce D. Smith, 1999. "The evolution of cash transactions : some implications for monetary policy," Research Working Paper 99-02, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  15. Woodford, Michael, 1990. "Public Debt as Private Liquidity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 382-88, May.
  16. S. Rao Aiyagari & Mark Gertler, 1990. "Asset Returns with Transactions Cost and Uninsured Risk: A Stage III Exercise," NBER Working Papers 3481, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  18. 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.
  19. S. Rao Aiyagari & Ellen R. McGrattan, 1997. "The optimum quantity of debt," Staff Report 203, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  20. 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.
  21. Romer, David, 1993. "Why Should Governments Issue Bonds?," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 163-75, May.
  22. 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.
  23. Thomas J. Sargent & Neil Wallace, 1981. "Some unpleasant monetarist arithmetic," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall.
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