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On the Determination of the Public Debt

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  • Barro, Robert J

Abstract

A public debt theory is constructed in which the Ricardian invariance theorem is valid as a first-order proposition but where the dependence of excess burden on the timing of taxation implies an optimal time path of debt issue. A central proposition is that deficits are varied in order to maintain expect ed constancy in tax rates. This behavior implies a positive effect on debt issue of temporary increases in government spending (as in wartime) a countercyclical response of debt to temporary income movements, and a one-to-one effect of expected inflation on nominal debt growth. Debt issue would be invariant with the outstanding debt-income ratio and, except for a minor effect, with the level of government spending. Hypotheses are tested on U.S. data since World WXar1. Results are basically in accord Fith the theory. It also turns out that a small set of explanatory variables can account for the principal movements in interest-bearing federal debt since the 1920s.
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Suggested Citation

  • Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:87:y:1979:i:5:p:940-71
    DOI: 10.1086/260807
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    1. Sandmo, Agnar, 1974. "A Note on the Structure of Optimal Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(4), pages 701-706, September.
    2. Prescott, Edward C., 1977. "Should control theory be used for economic stabilization?," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 13-38, January.
    3. Barro, Robert J. & Fischer, Stanley, 1976. "Recent developments in monetary theory," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(2), pages 133-167, April.
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