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An Empirical Investigation of the Strategic Use of Debt


  • Pettersson, Per

    () (Institute for International Economic Studies)


In this paper I test two models of strategic debt behavior. The general idea is that if a government anticipates the possibility of defeat in the next election it will try to use the debt strategically in order to influence the policy of its successor. Previous empirical studies have either rejected the strategic explanation of debt or have not been able to isolate this effect. I argue that these findings are perhaps less surprising since there are several potential difficulties using U.S. or OECD data to test the strategic explanation. One problem with the U.S. data is the scarcity of degrees of freedom while a problem with the OECD data is the pooling assumption. To come to grips with these two problems I use a data set from Swedish local governments. The main advantages of this panel data set are the homogeneity of the sample and the large number of observations from elections, nearly 2000. After controlling for other possible economic and demographic determinants of debt behavior, the main findings of this paper strongly suggest that a right-wing government accumulates more debt during its term of office if it thinks that it will be defeated as compared to when it expects to remain in office. On the other hand, a left-wing government decreases the level of debt the higher the possibility of its defeat. Moreover, the larger the inherited debt the more a newly elected government has to reduce spending and raise taxes. These results are consistent with the predictions from a model developed by Persson and Svensson (1989).

Suggested Citation

  • Pettersson, Per, 1999. "An Empirical Investigation of the Strategic Use of Debt," Working Paper Series 1999:4, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:uunewp:1999_004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Luisa Lambertini, 2003. "Are Budget Deficits Used Strategically?," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 578, Boston College Department of Economics.
    2. Roubini, Nouriel & Sachs, Jeffrey D., 1989. "Political and economic determinants of budget deficits in the industrial democracies," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 903-933, May.
    3. Sam Peltzman, 1992. "Voters as Fiscal Conservatives," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 327-361.
    4. Hausman, Jerry, 2015. "Specification tests in econometrics," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 38(2), pages 112-134.
    5. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1999. "Political economics and macroeconomic policy," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 22, pages 1397-1482 Elsevier.
    6. Nouriel Roubini & Jeffrey Sachs, 1988. "Political and Economic Determinants of Budget Deficits in the IndustrialDemocracies," NBER Working Papers 2682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December.
    8. Alberto Alesina & Guido Tabellini, 1990. "A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(3), pages 403-414.
    9. Alberto Alesina & Roberto Perotti, 1994. "The Political Economy of Budget Deficits," NBER Working Papers 4637, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Butler, J S & Moffitt, Robert, 1982. "A Computationally Efficient Quadrature Procedure for the One-Factor Multinomial Probit Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(3), pages 761-764, May.
    11. Alberto Alesina & Roberto Perotti & José Tavares, 1998. "The Political Economy of Fiscal Adjustments," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 197-266.
    12. Pagan, Adrian, 1984. "Econometric Issues in the Analysis of Regressions with Generated Regressors," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 25(1), pages 221-247, February.
    13. Edin, Per-Anders & Ohlsson, Henry, 1991. "Political determinants of budget deficits: Coalition effects versus minority effects," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(8), pages 1597-1603, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Per Pettersson, 2000. "Do Parties Matter for Fiscal Policy Choices," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1373, Econometric Society.

    More about this item


    Debt; Political economy; Fiscal policy;

    JEL classification:

    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt
    • H74 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Borrowing

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