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Debt Sustainability in Historical Perspective: The Role of Fiscal Repression

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  • Mauricio Drelichman
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

This article examines the debt history of two contenders for European hegemony: 16th-century Spain and 18th-century Britain. We analyze their fiscal behavior using measures of overborrowing and fiscal policy functions. Our results suggest that stringency was not key for Britain's success in avoiding default. Instead, fiscal repression allowed the United Kingdom to borrow at below-market rates, thereby outspending its continental rivals. (JEL: E4, F41, N23) (c) 2008 by the European Economic Association.

Suggested Citation

  • Mauricio Drelichman & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2008. "Debt Sustainability in Historical Perspective: The Role of Fiscal Repression," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 6(2-3), pages 657-667, 04-05.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:jeurec:v:6:y:2008:i:2-3:p:657-667
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    1. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff & Miguel A. Savastano, 2003. "Debt Intolerance," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(1), pages 1-74.
    2. Peter Temin & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2008. "Interest Rate Restrictions in a Natural Experiment: Loan Allocation and the Change in the Usury Laws in 1714," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(528), pages 743-758, April.
    3. Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1984. "Why Was British Growth So Slow During the Industrial Revolution?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(03), pages 687-712, September.
    4. 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.
    5. Oya Celasun & Xavier Debrun & Jonathan D. Ostry, 2006. "Primary Surplus Behavior and Risks to Fiscal Sustainability in Emerging Market Countries: A "Fan-Chart" Approach," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 53(3), pages 1-3.
    6. Sussman, Nathan & Yafeh, Yishay, 2006. "Institutional Reforms, Financial Development and Sovereign Debt: Britain 1690 1790," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 906-935, December.
    7. Michael D. Bordo & Eugene N. White, 1990. "British and French Finance During the Napoleonic Wars," NBER Working Papers 3517, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Temin, Peter & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2005. "Credit rationing and crowding out during the industrial revolution: evidence from Hoare's Bank, 1702-1862," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 325-348, July.
    9. Wyplosz, Charles, 1999. "Financial Restraints and Liberalization in Postwar Europe," CEPR Discussion Papers 2253, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Barro, Robert J., 1987. "Government spending, interest rates, prices, and budget deficits in the United Kingdom, 1701-1918," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 221-247, September.
    11. Drelichman, Mauricio & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2010. "The Sustainable Debts of Philip II: A Reconstruction of Castile's Fiscal Position, 1566–1596," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(04), pages 813-842, December.
    12. Drelichman, Mauricio & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2007. "The Sustainable Debts of Philip II: A Reconstruction of Spain's Fiscal Position, 1560-1598," CEPR Discussion Papers 6611, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    13. Bordo, Michael D. & White, Eugene N., 1991. "A Tale of Two Currencies: British and French Finance During the Napoleonic Wars," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(02), pages 303-316, June.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Mauricio Drelichman & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2015. "Risk sharing with the monarch: contingent debt and excusable defaults in the age of Philip II, 1556–1598," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 9(1), pages 49-75, January.
    2. repec:oup:restud:v:82:y:2015:i:4:p:1409-1448. is not listed on IDEAS
    3. 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.
    4. Nicola Gennaioli & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2015. "State Capacity and Military Conflict," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(4), pages 1409-1448.
    5. Javier L. Arnaut, 2017. "Was Colonialism Fiscally Sustainable? An Empirical Examination of the Colonial Finances of Spanish America," Documentos de Trabajo (DT-AEHE) 1703, Asociacion Espa–ola de Historia Economica.
    6. Pedro de Mendonça, 2013. "Nonlinear Phenomena in a Growing Economy with Convex Adjustment Costs," EERI Research Paper Series EERI RP 2013/05, Economics and Econometrics Research Institute (EERI), Brussels.
    7. Bastien Drut, 2013. "La répression financière est-elle la solution pour « liquider » la dette publique dans la zone euro ?," Working Papers CEB 13-003, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E4 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates
    • F41 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - Open Economy Macroeconomics
    • N23 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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