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A Positive Theory of Government Debt

Author

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  • Fernando Martin

    (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract

A government that cannot commit to future policy choices faces a trade-off that explains the level of debt. On the one hand, there is an incentive to increase debt and delay taxation, so as to reduce current distortions. On the other hand, inflating current prices lowers the real value of nominal debt and so there is a motive to reduce it now. The size of long-run debt will depend on the interaction of these two opposing incentives. The critical determinant is the willingness of households to substitute away from goods being taxed by inflation. Numerical simulations show that the model matches some qualitative and quantitative properties of U.S. policy variables, including the fact that wars are frequently financed with a mix of instruments. The theory interprets the unusual post-World War II inflation and fast liquidation of accumulated debt as being due to higher long-run debt and expenditure in the period leading up to the war. (Copyright: Elsevier)

Suggested Citation

  • Fernando Martin, 2009. "A Positive Theory of Government Debt," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(4), pages 608-631, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:issued:07-47
    DOI: 10.1016/j.red.2009.02.003
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Government debt; Time-consistency; Markov-perfect equilibrium;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy; Modern Monetary Theory
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt

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