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Why do governments default, and why don't they default more often?

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  • Buiter, Willem H.
  • Rahbari, Ebrahim

Abstract

This paper considers the economic and political drivers of sovereign default, focusing on countries rich enough to render sovereign default a ‘won’t pay’ rather than a ‘can’t pay’ phenomenon. Unlike many private contracts, sovereign debt contracts rely almost exclusively on self-enforcement rather than on third-party enforcement. Among the social costs of sovereign default are contagion and concentration risk, both within and outside the jurisdiction of the sovereign, and ‘rule of law externalities’. We consider illiquidity as a separate trigger for sovereign default and emphasize the role of lenders of last resort for the sovereign. Not only do political economy factors drive sovereign insolvency, they also influence the debt sustainability analyses performed by national and international agencies. We consider it likely that the absence of sovereign defaults in the advanced economies since the (West) German defaults of 1948 and 1953 until the Greek defaults of 2012 was a historical aberration that is unlikely to be a reliable guide to the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Buiter, Willem H. & Rahbari, Ebrahim, 2013. "Why do governments default, and why don't they default more often?," CEPR Discussion Papers 9492, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9492
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Friedrich Schneider & Dominik Enste, 1999. "Shadow Economies Around the World - Size, Causes, and Consequences," CESifo Working Paper Series 196, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. repec:eee:thpobi:v:81:y:2012:i:1:p:69-80 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Dominik Enste & Friedrich Schneider, 2002. "Hiding in the Shadows; The Growth of the Underground Economy," IMF Economic Issues 30, International Monetary Fund.
    4. Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Cheating Ourselves: The Economics of Tax Evasion," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 25-48, Winter.
    5. Drew Fudenberg & Jean Tirole, 1991. "Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262061414, January.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Pawel Gajewski, 2014. "Monetary policy stress in EMU during the moderation and the global crisis," Lodz Economics Working Papers 2/2014, University of Lodz, Faculty of Economics and Sociology.
    2. Blot, Christophe & Ducoudré, Bruno & Timbeau, Xavier, 2016. "Sovereign debt spread and default in a model with self-fulfilling prophecies and asymmetric information," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 47(PB), pages 281-299.
    3. Brigitte Granville & Dominik Nagly, 2013. "Determinants of relative bargaining power in monetary unions," Working Papers 47, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
    4. Roberto Tamborini, 2015. "Heterogeneous Market Beliefs, Fundamentals and the Sovereign Debt Crisis in the Eurozone," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82, pages 1153-1176, December.
    5. Huong Dang, 2014. "How dimensions of national culture and institutional characteristics influence sovereign rating migration dynamics," ZenTra Working Papers in Transnational Studies 42 / 2014, ZenTra - Center for Transnational Studies.
    6. van Riet, Ad, 2017. "Addressing the safety trilemma: a safe sovereign asset for the eurozone," ESRB Working Paper Series 35, European Systemic Risk Board.
    7. Giuliana Passamani & Roberto Tamborini & Matteo Tomaselli, 2014. "Sustainability vs. credibility of fiscal consolidation. A Principal Components test for the Euro Zone," DEM Discussion Papers 2014/09, Department of Economics and Management.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    fiscal sustainability; intertemporal budget constraint; political economy.; solvency; sovereign default; strategic default;

    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • E63 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Comparative or Joint Analysis of Fiscal and Monetary Policy; Stabilization; Treasury Policy
    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • F41 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance - - - Open Economy Macroeconomics
    • G01 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Financial Crises
    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt

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