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Debt and Economic Activity in the United States

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  • Benjamin M. Friedman

Abstract

This paper documents a long-standing stability in the relationship between outstanding debt and economic activity in the United States, and explores the implications for capital formation of several hypotheses that could explain this observed phenomenon. The aggregate of outstanding credit liabilities of all nonfinancial borrowers in the United States bears as close a relationship to U.S. non- financial economic activity as do the more familiar asset aggregates like the money stock (however measured) or the monetary base. This stability in the debt-to-income relationship reflects the net outcome of pronounced but offsetting movements of the public and private components of the total debt aggregate. Three different hypotheses provide potential explanations for this phenomenon. Two of these, one emphasizing taxpayers' actions and one based on credit market borrowing constraints, carry the implication that increases in government debt outstanding associated with financing budget deficits crowd out private financing and hence private capital formation. The third hypothesis, which emphasizes the portfolio preferences of lenders, implies that increased government financing will not crowd out private capital formation but will cause the private sector to shift from debt to equity financing.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin M. Friedman, 1981. "Debt and Economic Activity in the United States," NBER Working Papers 0704, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0704
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Stephen M. Goldfeld & Alan S. Blinder, 1972. "Some Implications of Endogenous Stabilization Policy," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 3(3), pages 585-644.
    2. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1978. "Crowding Out or Crowding In? Economic Consequences of Financing Government Deficits," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 9(3), pages 593-641.
    3. Smith, Gary, 1975. "Pitfalls in Financial Model Building: A Clarification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 510-516, June.
    4. Benjamin M. Friedman & Milton Friedman & A. W. Clausen, 1980. "Postwar Changes in the American Financial Markets," NBER Chapters,in: The American Economy in Transition, pages 9-100 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Sims, Christopher A, 1980. "Macroeconomics and Reality," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(1), pages 1-48, January.
    6. Sargent, Thomas J, 1976. "The Observational Equivalence of Natural and Unnatural Rate Theories of Macroeconomics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(3), pages 631-640, June.
    7. David, Paul A & Scadding, John L, 1974. "Private Savings: Ultrarationality, Aggregation, and "Denison's Law."," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 225-249, Part I, M.
    8. William C. Brainard & James Tobin, 1968. "Pitfalls in Financial Model-Building," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 244, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    9. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1981. "The Relative Stability of Money and Credit "Velocities" in the United States: Evidence and Some Speculations," NBER Working Papers 0645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Bayer, Christian, 2006. "Investment dynamics with fixed capital adjustment cost and capital market imperfections," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(8), pages 1909-1947, November.
    2. Kashyap, Anil K & Stein, Jeremy C & Wilcox, David W, 1993. "Monetary Policy and Credit Conditions: Evidence from the Composition of External Finance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 78-98, March.
    3. Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Debt problems and macroeconomic policies," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 165-208.
    4. Hume, Michael & Sentance, Andrew, 2009. "The global credit boom: Challenges for macroeconomics and policy," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 28(8), pages 1426-1461, December.
    5. Fratianni, Michele & von Hagen, Jurgen, 2001. "The Konstanz Seminar on monetary theory and policy at 30," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 641-664, September.
    6. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1983. "Managing the U.S. Government Deficit in the 1980s," NBER Working Papers 1209, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1987. "New Directions in the Relationship Between Public and Private Debt," NBER Working Papers 2186, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Calomiris, Charles W & Hubbard, R Glenn, 1990. "Firm Heterogeneity, Internal Finance, and 'Credit Rationing.'," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(399), pages 90-104, March.
    9. Smant, David / D.J.C., 2002. "Bank credit in the transmission of monetary policy: A critical review of the issues and evidence," MPRA Paper 19816, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Robert A. Taggart, Jr., 1984. "Have U.S. Corporations Grown Financially Weak?," NBER Working Papers 1523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. André Babeau, 1983. "Le rapport macro-économique du patrimoine au revenu des ménages," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 34(1), pages 64-123.

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