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Fiscal Austerity during Debt Crises


  • Cristina Arellano
  • Yan Bai


This paper constructs a dynamic model in which fiscal restrictions interact with government borrowing and default. The government faces fiscal constraints; it cannot adjust tax rates or impose lump-sum taxes on the private sector, but it can adjust public consumption and foreign debt. When foreign debt is sufficiently high, however, the government can choose to default to increase domestic public and private consumption by freeing up the resources used to pay the debt. Two types of defaults arise in this environment: fiscal defaults and aggregate defaults. Fiscal defaults occur because of the government's inability to raise tax revenues. Aggregate defaults occur even if the government could raise tax revenues; debt is simply too high to be sustainable. In a quantitative exercise calibrated to Greece, we find that our model can predict the recent default, but that increasing taxes would not have prevented it. In fact, increasing taxes would have made the recession deeper because of the distortionary effects of taxation.

Suggested Citation

  • Cristina Arellano & Yan Bai, 2016. "Fiscal Austerity during Debt Crises," Staff Report 525, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:525

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gabriel Cuadra & Juan Sanchez & Horacio Sapriza, 2010. "Fiscal Policy and Default Risk in Emerging Markets," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(2), pages 452-469, April.
    2. Gulati, Mitu & Trebesch, Christoph & Zettelmeyer, Jeromin, 2013. "The Greek Debt Restructuring: An Autopsy," CEPR Discussion Papers 9577, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Cristina Arellano, 2008. "Default Risk and Income Fluctuations in Emerging Economies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 690-712, June.
    4. repec:oup:ecpoli:v:28:y:2013:i:75:p:513-563 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Jonathan Eaton & Mark Gersovitz, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309.
    6. Juan J. Cruces & Christoph Trebesch, 2013. "Sovereign Defaults: The Price of Haircuts," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 85-117, July.
    7. Bi, Huixin, 2012. "Sovereign default risk premia, fiscal limits, and fiscal policy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 389-410.
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    Cited by:

    1. Francesco Pappada & Yanos Zylberberg, 2018. "Hanging off a cliff: fiscal consolidations and default risk," 2018 Meeting Papers 844, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Axelle Ferriere & Anastasios G. Karantounias, 2019. "Fiscal Austerity in Ambiguous Times," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 89-131, January.
    3. George Economides & Dimitris Papageorgiou & Apostolis Philippopoulos, 2020. "Macroeconomic policy lessons for Greece," GreeSE – Hellenic Observatory Papers on Greece and Southeast Europe 152, Hellenic Observatory, LSE.
    4. George Economides & Dimitris Papageorgiou & Apostolis Philippopoulos, 2020. "Macroeconomic Policy Lessons for Greece from the Debt Crisis," CESifo Working Paper Series 8188, CESifo.
    5. Christos Shiamptanis, 2019. "Tax Austerity: Does it avert solvency crises?," LCERPA Working Papers ec0119, Laurier Centre for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, revised 1970.
    6. Christos Shiamptanis, 2017. "Austerity Measures: Do they avert solvency crises?," LCERPA Working Papers 0103, Laurier Centre for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, revised 19 Jun 2017.
    7. Economides, George & Papageorgiou, Dmitris & Philippopoulos, Apostolis, 2020. "Macroeconomic policy lessons from Greece," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 107155, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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    More about this item


    Debt crisis; Tax reforms; Sovereign default;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F30 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - General

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