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The Behavior of U. S. Public Debt and Deficits

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  • Henning Bohn

Abstract

How do governments react to the accumulation of debt? Do they take corrective measures, or do they let the debt grow? Whereas standard time series tests cannot reject a unit root in the U. S. debt-GDP ratio, this paper provides evidence of corrective action: the U. S. primary surplus is an increasing function of the debt-GDP ratio. The debt-GDP ratio displays mean-reversion if one controls for war-time spending and for cyclical fluctuations. The positive response of the primary surplus to changes in debt also shows that U. S. fiscal policy is satisfying an intertemporal budget constraint.

Suggested Citation

  • Henning Bohn, 1998. "The Behavior of U. S. Public Debt and Deficits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 949-963.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:113:y:1998:i:3:p:949-963.
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