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Optimal Management of Indexed and Nominal Debt

  • Robert Barro

    (Department of Economics , Harvard University)

A tax-smoothing objective is used to assess the optimal composition of public debt with respect to maturity and contingencies. This objective motivates the government to make its debt payouts contingent on the levels of public outlay and the tax base. If these contingencies are present, but asset prices of non-contingent indexed debt are stochastic, then full tax smoothing dictates an optimal maturity structure of the non-contingent debt. If the certainty equivalent outlays are the same for each period, then the government should guarantee equal real payouts in each period, that is, the debt takes the form of indexed consols. This structure insulates the government¡¯s budget constraint from unpredictable variations in the market prices of indexed bonds of various maturities. If contingent debt is precluded, then the government may want to depart from a consol maturity structure to exploit covariances among public outlay, the tax base, and the term structure of real interest rates. However, if moral hazard is the reason for the preclusion of contingent debt, then this consideration also deters exploitation of these covariances and tends to return the optimal solution to the consol maturity structure. The issue of nominal bonds may allow the government to exploit the covariances among public outlay, the tax base, and the rate of inflation. But if moral-hazard explains the absence of contingent debt, then the same reasoning tends to make nominal debt issue undesirable. The bottom line is that an optimal-tax approach to public debt favors bonds that are indexed and long term.

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Paper provided by China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics in its series CEMA Working Papers with number 496.

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Length: 15 pages
Date of creation: 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 4(1), pages 1-15, May 2003.
Handle: RePEc:cuf:wpaper:496
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cema.cufe.edu.cn/

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  1. Alberto Alesina & Alessandro Prati & Guido Tabellini, 1989. "Public Confidence and Debt Management: A Model and A Case Study of Italy," NBER Working Papers 3135, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. Robert J. Barro, 1995. "Optimal Debt Management," NBER Working Papers 5327, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Bohn, Henning, 1990. "Tax Smoothing with Financial Instruments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1217-30, December.
  5. Missale, Alessandro & Blanchard, Olivier Jean, 1994. "The Debt Burden and Debt Maturity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 309-19, March.
  6. Chari, V V & Christiano, Lawrence J & Kehoe, Patrick J, 1994. "Optimal Fiscal Policy in a Business Cycle Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 617-52, August.
  7. Albert Marcet & Thomas J. Sargent & Juha Seppala, 1996. "Optimal taxation without state-contingent debt," Economics Working Papers 170, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2001.
  8. 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.
  9. Bohn, Henning, 1988. "Why do we have nominal government debt?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 127-140, January.
  10. Zhu, Xiaodong, 1992. "Optimal fiscal policy in a stochastic growth model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 250-289, December.
  11. Persson, Torsten & Svensson, Lars E. O., 1984. "Time-consistent fiscal policy and government cash-flow," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 365-374, November.
  12. Fischer, Stanley, 1983. "`Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital' by Robert E. Lucas and Nancy L. Stokey," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 95-99.
  13. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
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