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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. Douglas Sutherland & Sonia Araujo & Balázs Égert & Tomasz Koźluk, 2009. "Infrastructure Investment: Links to Growth and the Role of Public Policies," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 686, OECD Publishing.
  2. Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," CEPR Discussion Papers 7661, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Deniz Baglan & Emre Yoldas, 2013. "Government debt and macroeconomic activity: a predictive analysis for advanced economies," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-05, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. 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.
  5. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
  6. Kourtellos, Andros & Stengos, Thanasis & Tan, Chih Ming, 2013. "The effect of public debt on growth in multiple regimes," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 38(PA), pages 35-43.
  7. Markus Eberhardt & Andrea Presbitero, 2013. "This Time They Are Different; Heterogeneity and Nonlinearity in the Relationship Between Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 13/248, International Monetary Fund.
  8. Andrea Pescatori & Damiano Sandri & John Simon, 2014. "Debt and Growth; Is There a Magic Threshold?," IMF Working Papers 14/34, International Monetary Fund.
  9. 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.
  10. Pier Carlo Padoan & Urban Sila & Paul van den Noord, 2012. "Avoiding debt traps: Fiscal consolidation, financial backstops and structural reforms," OECD Journal: Economic Studies, OECD Publishing, vol. 2012(1), pages 151-177.
  11. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2010. "From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis," NBER Working Papers 15795, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Caner, Mehmet & Grennes,Thomas & Koehler-Geib, Fritzi, 2010. "Finding the tipping point -- when sovereign debt turns bad," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5391, The World Bank.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2010. "Public Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 10/174, International Monetary Fund.
  16. Thomas Herndon & Michael Ash & Robert Pollin, 2013. "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogo ff," Working Papers wp322, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  17. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2013. "Debt and growth: New evidence for the euro area," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 809-821.
  18. Hansen, Bruce E., 1999. "Threshold effects in non-dynamic panels: Estimation, testing, and inference," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 93(2), pages 345-368, December.
  19. Ugo Panizza & Andrea F. Presbitero, 2013. "Public Debt and Economic Growth in Advanced Economies: A Survey," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 149(II), pages 175-204, June.
  20. Pier Carlo Padoan & Urban Sila & Paul van den Noord, 2012. "Avoiding Debt Traps: Financial Backstops and Structural Reforms," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 976, OECD Publishing.
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