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Historical Patterns and Dynamics of Public Debt—Evidence From a New Database

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  • S M Ali Abbas
  • Nazim Belhocine
  • Asmaa El-Ganainy
  • Mark Horton

Abstract

This paper introduces the first truly comprehensive database on gross government-debt-to-GDP ratios, covering nearly the entire IMF membership (178 countries) and spanning an exceptionally long time period (going back to 1880 for most advanced and some emerging economies). The paper then uses the database to document the evolution of public debt ratios in advanced, emerging, and low-income economies, and relate them to contemporaneous developments in growth, commodity prices, and debt relief, respectively. Finally, the paper identifies 129 large debt increases and decreases observed in 19 advanced economies over 1880–2007 and decomposes them into contributions from the primary balance, the interest-growth differential, and the stock-flow adjustment term (a composite of valuation effects and “below-the-line” fiscal operations). The analysis suggests a pattern of asymmetric contributions: the primary balance plays a key role in debt reductions, except during the post-WWII period (when the growth-interest differential was extremely favorable); while debt surges were often associated with large stock-flow adjustments, likely reflecting assumption of implicit liabilities and exchange rate changes and, for the cases of debt reduction, debt default.

Suggested Citation

  • S M Ali Abbas & Nazim Belhocine & Asmaa El-Ganainy & Mark Horton, 2011. "Historical Patterns and Dynamics of Public Debt—Evidence From a New Database," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 59(4), pages 717-742, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:imfecr:v:59:y:2011:i:4:p:717-742
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    Cited by:

    1. Zareh Asatryan & Lars Feld & Benny Geys, 2015. "Partial fiscal decentralization and sub-national government fiscal discipline: empirical evidence from OECD countries," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 163(3), pages 307-320, June.
    2. Luca Papi & Andrea F Presbitero & Alberto Zazzaro, 2015. "IMF Lending and Banking Crises," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 63(3), pages 644-691, November.
    3. Ugo Panizza & Andrea F. Presbitero, 2013. "Public Debt and Economic Growth in Advanced Economies: A Survey," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 149(II), pages 175-204, June.
    4. Richter, Alexander W. & Throckmorton, Nathaniel A., 2015. "The consequences of an unknown debt target," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 76-96.
    5. Mehl, Arnaud, 2013. "Large global volatility shocks, equity markets and globalisation: 1885-2011," Working Paper Series 1548, European Central Bank.
    6. Chiţu, Livia & Eichengreen, Barry & Mehl, Arnaud, 2014. "When did the dollar overtake sterling as the leading international currency? Evidence from the bond markets," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, pages 225-245.
    7. Dufrénot, G. & Triki, K., 2012. "Why have governments succeeded in reducing French public debt historically and can these successes inspired us for the future? An historical perspective since 1890," Working papers 386, Banque de France.
    8. repec:eee:jebusi:v:94:y:2017:i:c:p:1-14 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. M. Ayhan Kose & Sergio Kurlat & Franziska Ohnsorge & Naotaka Sugawara, 2017. "A Cross-Country Database of Fiscal Space," Koç University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum Working Papers 1713, Koc University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum.
    10. Nicholas Crafts, 2013. "Returning to Growth: Policy Lessons from History," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 34(2), pages 255-282, June.
    11. Equiza-Goñi, Juan, 2016. "Government debt maturity and debt dynamics in euro area countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 292-311.
    12. Anke Weber, 2012. "Stock-Flow Adjustments and Fiscal Transparency; A Cross-Country Comparison," IMF Working Papers 12/39, International Monetary Fund.
    13. Nicholas Crafts, 2014. "What Does the 1930s' Experience Tell Us about the Future of the Eurozone?," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 713-727, July.
    14. repec:spr:portec:v:16:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10258-016-0126-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. António Afonso & João Tovar Jalles, 2016. "The Fiscal Consequences of Deflation: Evidence from the Golden Age of Globalization," Working Papers Department of Economics 2016/23, ISEG - Lisbon School of Economics and Management, Department of Economics, Universidade de Lisboa.
    16. Nicholas Crafts, 2013. "Long-Term Growth in Europe: What Difference does the Crisis Make?," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 224(1), pages 14-28, May.
    17. Xavier Debrun & Tidiane Kinda, 2016. "That Squeezing Feeling: The Interest Burden and Public Debt Stabilization," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(2), pages 147-178, June.
    18. Pandelis Mitsis, 2012. "Is there an Environmental Kuznets Curve in the Carbon Dioxide Emissions?," University of Cyprus Working Papers in Economics 16-2012, University of Cyprus Department of Economics.
    19. Laura Jaramillo & Carlos Mulas-Granados & Elijah Kimani, 2016. "The Blind Side of Public Debt Spikes," IMF Working Papers 16/202, International Monetary Fund.
    20. Barr, David & Bush, Oliver & Pienkowski, Alex, 2014. "GDP-linked bonds and sovereign default," Bank of England working papers 484, Bank of England.
    21. repec:cai:recosp:reco_hs02_0159 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Juan Equiza Goni, 2014. "Sovereign Debt Maturity and Debt-to GDP Dynamics in Six Euro Area Countries," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2014-44, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

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