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The Economics of Sovereign Debt, Bailouts and the Eurozone Crisis


  • Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier
  • Martin, Philippe


Despite a formal ‘no-bailout clause’, we estimate significant net present value transfers from the European Union to Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, ranging from roughly 0.5% (Ireland) to 43% (Greece) of 2011 output during the recent Eurozone crisis. We propose a model to analyze and understand bailouts in a monetary union, and the large observed differences across countries. We characterize bailout size and likelihood as a function of the economic fundamentals (economic activity, debt-to-gdp ratio, default costs). Our model embeds a ‘Southern view’ of the crisis (transfers did not help) and a ‘Northern view’ (transfers weaken fiscal discipline). While a stronger no-bailout commitment reduces risk-shifting, it may not be optimal from the perspective of the creditor country, even ex-ante, if it increases the risk of immediate insolvency for high debt countries. Hence, the model provides a potential justification for the often decried policy of ‘kicking the can down the road’.

Suggested Citation

  • Gourinchas, Pierre-Olivier & Martin, Philippe, 2020. "The Economics of Sovereign Debt, Bailouts and the Eurozone Crisis," CEPR Discussion Papers 14891, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:14891

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Sewon Hur & César Sosa-Padilla & Zeynep Yom, 2021. "Optimal bailouts in banking and sovereign crises," Working Papers 51, Red Nacional de Investigadores en Economía (RedNIE).
    3. Bletzinger, Tilman & von Thadden, Leopold, 2021. "Designing QE in a fiscally sound monetary union," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 132(C).
    4. Mengus, Eric, 2023. "Asset purchase bailouts and endogenous implicit guarantees," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 142(C).
    5. Sebastian Horn & Bradley C. Parks & Carmen M. Reinhart & Christoph Trebesch, 2023. "China as an International Lender of Last Resort," NBER Working Papers 31105, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Bonam, Dennis & Ciccarelli, Matteo & Gomes, Sandra & Aldama, Pierre & Bańkowski, Krzysztof & Buss, Ginters & da Costa, José Cardoso & Christoffel, Kai & Elfsbacka Schmöller, Michaela & Jacquinot, Pasc, 2024. "Challenges for monetary and fiscal policy interactions in the post-pandemic era," Occasional Paper Series 337, European Central Bank.
    7. Kobielarz, M.L., 2023. "Bailout dynamics in a monetary union," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 142(C).
    8. Avellán, Leopoldo & Galindo, Arturo J. & Gómez, Tomás & Lotti, Giulia, 2024. "The cyclicality of official bilateral lending: Which cycle do flows follow?," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 59(C).
    9. Mitchener, Kris & Trebesch, Christoph, 2021. "Sovereign Debt in the 21st Century: Looking Backward, Looking Forward," CEPR Discussion Papers 15935, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Nicoletta Batini & Francesco Lamperti & Andrea Roventini, 2020. "Reducing Risk While Sharing It: A Fiscal Recipe for The EU at the Time of COVID-19," IMF Working Papers 2020/181, International Monetary Fund.
    11. Chirinko, Robert, 2023. "What went wrong? The Puerto Rican debt crisis, the “Treasury Put,” and the failure of market discipline," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    12. Francesco Carli & Leonor Modesto, 2022. "Sovereign debt, fiscal policy, and macroeconomic instability," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 24(6), pages 1386-1412, December.
    13. Toyofuku, Kenta, 2021. "Unit of account, sovereign debt, and optimal currency area," Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, Elsevier, vol. 75(C).
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    15. Radoslaw Paluszynski & Georgios Stefanidis, 2023. "Borrowing into debt crises," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 14(1), pages 277-308, January.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • F45 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - Macroeconomic Issues of Monetary Unions

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