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Public debt, economic growth and nonlinear effects: Myth or reality?

  • Balázs Égert

The economics profession seems to increasingly endorse the existence of a strongly negative nonlinear effect of public debt on economic growth. Reinhart and Rogoff (2010) were the first to point out that a public debt-to-GDP ratio higher than 90% of GDP is associated with considerably lower economic performance in advanced and emerging economies alike. A string of recent empirical papers broadly validates this threshold value. This paper seeks to contribute to this literature by putting a variant of the Reinhart-Rogoff dataset to a formal econometric testing. Using nonlinear threshold models, there is some evidence in favour of a negative nonlinear relationship between debt and growth. But these results are very sensitive to the time dimension and country coverage considered, data frequency (annual data vs. multi-year averages) and assumptions on the minimum number of observations required in each nonlinear regime. In addition, we also show that nonlinear effects can kick in at much lower levels of public debt (between 20% and 60% of GDP). These results, based on bivariate regressions on secular time series, are largely confirmed on a shorter dataset (1960-2010) when using a multivariate growth framework that accounts for traditional drivers of long-term economic growth and model uncertainty. Nonlinear effects might be more complex and difficult to model than previously thought. Instability might be a result of nonlinear effects changing over time, across countries and economic conditions. Further research is certainly needed to fully understand the link between public debt and growth.

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File URL: http://economix.fr/pdf/dt/2012/WP_EcoX_2012-44.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Paris West - Nanterre la Défense, EconomiX in its series EconomiX Working Papers with number 2012-44.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:drm:wpaper:2012-44
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  1. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2012. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," POLIS Working Papers 168, Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice - POLIS.
  2. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2010. "Public Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 10/174, International Monetary Fund.
  3. Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth S., 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," Scholarly Articles 11129154, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2012. "Debt and growth: new evidence for the euro area," Working Paper Series 1450, European Central Bank.
  5. Bruce E. Hansen, 1997. "Threshold effects in non-dynamic panels: Estimation, testing and inference," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 365, Boston College Department of Economics.
  6. 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.
  7. Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent R. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2012. "Debt Overhangs: Past and Present," NBER Working Papers 18015, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2011. "From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 1676-1706, August.
  10. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
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