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Understanding the Emergence of Public Debt

  • Martin Fochmann
  • Abdolkarim Sadrieh
  • Joachim Weimann

We use a controlled laboratory experiment with and without overlapping generations to study the emergence of public debt. Public debt is chosen by popular vote, pays for public goods, and is repaid with general taxes. With a single generation, public debt is accumulated prudently, never leading to over-indebtedness. With multiple generations, public debt is accumulated rapidly as soon as the burden of debt and the risk of over-indebtedness can be shifted to future generations. Debt ceiling mechanisms do not mitigate the debt problem. With overlapping generations, political debt cycles emerge, oscillating with the age of the majority of voters.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 4820.

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Date of creation: 2014
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_4820
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  1. Fischer, Maria-Elisabeth & Irlenbusch, Bernd & Sadrieh, Abdolkarim, 2004. "An intergenerational common pool resource experiment," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 811-836, September.
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  7. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  8. Ben Greiner, 2004. "The Online Recruitment System ORSEE 2.0 - A Guide for the Organization of Experiments in Economics," Working Paper Series in Economics 10, University of Cologne, Department of Economics.
  9. Tabellini, Guido & Alesina, Alberto, 1990. "A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt," Scholarly Articles 3612769, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  10. Chermak, Janie M. & Krause, Kate, 2002. "Individual Response, Information, and Intergenerational Common Pool Problems," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 47-70, January.
  11. van der Heijden, E.C.M. & Nelissen, J.H.M. & Potters, J.J.M. & Verbon, H.A.A., 1998. "Transfers and the effect of monitoring in an overlapping-generations experiment," Other publications TiSEM 495c7f49-59fd-459f-908d-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  12. Alberto Alesina & Nouriel Roubini & Gerald D. Cohen, 1997. "Political Cycles and the Macroeconomy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262510944, June.
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