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The 90% Public Debt Threshold: The Rise and Fall of a Stylised Fact

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  • Balazs Egert

Abstract

This paper puts the original Reinhart-Rogoff dataset, made public by Herndon et al. (2013), to a formal econometric test to pin down debt threshold endogenously. We show that the nonlinear relation from debt to growth is not very robust. Taken with a pinch of salt, our results suggest, however, that there may be a tipping point at around 20% of GDP, beyond which central government debt has a negative influence on growth. Further (and greater) thresholds may exist but their magnitude is highly uncertain. For general government debt (1960-2009), the threshold beyond which negative growth effects kick in is considerably higher at about 50%. Finally, individual country estimates reveal a large amount of cross-country heterogeneity. For some countries including the United States, a nonlinear negative link can be detected at about 30% of GDP. For others, the thresholds are surrounded by a great amount of uncertainty or no nonlinearities can be established. This instability may be a result of threshold effects changing over time within countries and depending on economic conditions, not captured in our estimations. Overall, our results can be seen as a formal econometric confirmation that the 90% public debt threshold is not in the Reinhart-Rogoff data. But our results also seem to suggest that public debt might have a negative effect on economic performance kicking in at already fairly moderate public debt levels. Furthermore, the absence of threshold effects or low estimated thresholds may not preclude the emergence of further threshold effects, especially as public debt levels are rising to unprecedentedly high levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Balazs Egert, 2013. "The 90% Public Debt Threshold: The Rise and Fall of a Stylised Fact," CESifo Working Paper Series 4242, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_4242
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Thomas Herndon & Michael Ash & Robert Pollin, 2014. "Does high public debt consistently stifle economic growth? A critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 257-279.
    2. Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2010. "The impact of high and growing government debt on economic growth: an empirical investigation for the euro area," Working Paper Series 1237, European Central Bank.
    3. Crespo Cuaresma, Jesus & Doppelhofer, Gernot, 2007. "Nonlinearities in cross-country growth regressions: A Bayesian Averaging of Thresholds (BAT) approach," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 541-554, September.
    4. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2014. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 21-41.
    5. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2015. "Public Debt and Growth," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82(328), pages 705-739, October.
    6. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 573-578, May.
    7. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
    8. Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent R. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2012. "Public Debt Overhangs: Advanced-Economy Episodes since 1800," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 69-86, Summer.
    9. Deniz Baglan & Emre Yoldas, 2013. "Government debt and macroeconomic activity: a predictive analysis for advanced economies," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-05, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    10. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2013. "Debt and growth: New evidence for the euro area," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 809-821.
    11. Pier Carlo Padoan & Urban Sila & Paul van den Noord, 2012. "Avoiding debt traps: Fiscal consolidation, financial backstops and structural reforms," OECD Journal: Economic Studies, OECD Publishing, vol. 2012(1), pages 151-177.
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    13. Pier Carlo Padoan & Urban Sila & Paul van den Noord, 2012. "Avoiding Debt Traps: Financial Backstops and Structural Reforms," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 976, OECD Publishing.
    14. Alexandru Minea & Antoine Parent, 2012. "Is High Public Debt Always Harmful to Economic Growth? Reinhart and Rogoff and some complex nonlinearities," Working Papers 12-08, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
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    Cited by:

    1. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2014. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 21-41.
    2. Marta Gómez-Puig & Simón Sosvilla-Rivero, 2015. "On the bi-directional causal relationship between public debt and economic growth in EMU countries," Working Papers 15-06, Asociación Española de Economía y Finanzas Internacionales.
    3. Ehrhart, Hélène & Minea, Alexandru & Villieu, Patrick, 2014. "Debt, seigniorage, and the Growth Laffer Curve in developing countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 199-210.
    4. 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.
    5. Nicholas Crafts, 2014. "Ireland’s Medium-Term Growth Prospects: a Phoenix Rising?," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 45(1), pages 87-112.
    6. Markus Eberhardt, 2013. "Nonlinearities in the Relationship between Debt and Growth: Evidence from Co-Summability Testing," Discussion Papers 2013/06, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
    7. Łukasz Rawdanowicz, 2014. "Choosing the pace of fiscal consolidation," OECD Journal: Economic Studies, OECD Publishing, vol. 2013(1), pages 91-119.
    8. Marta Gómez-Puig & Simón Sosvilla-Rivero, 2015. "“Short-run and long-run effects of public debt on economic performance: Evidence from EMU countries”," IREA Working Papers 201522, University of Barcelona, Research Institute of Applied Economics, revised Sep 2015.
    9. Yannis Dafermos, 2015. "The ‘other half’ of the public debt–economic growth relationship: a note on Reinhart and Rogoff," European Journal of Economics and Economic Policies: Intervention, Edward Elgar Publishing, vol. 12(1), pages 20-28, April.
    10. Markus Eberhardt & Andrea Presbitero, 2013. "This Time They Are Different; Heterogeneity and Nonlinearity in the Relationship Between Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 13/248, International Monetary Fund.
    11. Sokbae (Simon) Lee & Hyunmin Park & Myung Hwan Seo & Youngki Shin, 2014. "A contribution to the Reinhart and Rogoff debate: not 90 percent but maybe 30 percent," CeMMAP working papers CWP39/14, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    12. Oblath, Gábor & Halpern, László, 2014. "A gazdasági stagnálás "színe" és fonákja. Mivel jár együtt az exporttöbblet és az adósságcsökkenés?
      [The bright" and gloomy side of economic stagnation]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(7), pages 757-800.
    13. Gómez-Puig, Marta & Sosvilla-Rivero, Simón, 2015. "The causal relationship between debt and growth in EMU countries," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 974-989.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    public debt; economic growth; nonlinearity; threshold effects;

    JEL classification:

    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General
    • F30 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - General
    • F40 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - General
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative

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