IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Developing Countries: The Tale of the Tormented Insurer


  • Enrique G. Mendoza
  • P. Marcelo Oviedo


Governments in emerging markets often behave like a "tormented insurer," trying to use non-state-contingent debt instruments to avoid cuts in payments to private agents despite large fluctuations in public revenues. In the data, average public debt-GDP ratios decline as the variability of revenues increases, primary balances and current expenditures follow cyclical patterns sharply at odds with the countercyclical patterns of industrial countries, and the cyclical variability of public expenditures exceeds that of private expenditures by a wide margin. This paper proposes a model of a small open economy with incomplete markets that can rationalize this behavior. In the model a fiscal authority makes optimal expenditure and debt plans given shocks to output and revenues, and private agents make optimal consumption and asset accumulation plans. Quantitative analysis of the model calibrated to Mexico yields a negative relationship between average public debt and revenue variability similar to the one observed in the data. The model mimics Mexico's GDP correlations of government purchases and the primary balance. The ratio of public-to-private expenditures fluctuates widely and the implied welfare costs dwarf conventional estimates of negligible benefits of risk sharing and consumption smoothing.

Suggested Citation

  • Enrique G. Mendoza & P. Marcelo Oviedo, 2006. "Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Developing Countries: The Tale of the Tormented Insurer," NBER Working Papers 12586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12586
    Note: IFM

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alberto Alesina & Filipe R. Campante & Guido Tabellini, 2008. "Why is Fiscal Policy Often Procyclical?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 6(5), pages 1006-1036, September.
    2. Graciela L. Kaminsky & Carmen M. Reinhart & Carlos A. Végh, 2005. "When It Rains, It Pours: Procyclical Capital Flows and Macroeconomic Policies," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2004, Volume 19, pages 11-82 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Tauchen, George & Hussey, Robert, 1991. "Quadrature-Based Methods for Obtaining Approximate Solutions to Nonlinear Asset Pricing Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(2), pages 371-396, March.
    4. Christopher D. Carroll, 2004. "Theoretical Foundations of Buffer Stock Saving," Economics Working Paper Archive 517, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
    5. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1996. "Nobel Lecture: Monetary Neutrality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 661-682, August.
    6. Oya Celasun & Xavier Debrun & Jonathan D. Ostry, 2006. "Primary Surplus Behavior and Risks to Fiscal Sustainability in Emerging Market Countries: A "Fan-Chart" Approach," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 53(3), pages 1-3.
    7. Neumeyer, Pablo A. & Perri, Fabrizio, 2005. "Business cycles in emerging economies: the role of interest rates," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(2), pages 345-380, March.
    8. Talvi, Ernesto & Vegh, Carlos A., 2005. "Tax base variability and procyclical fiscal policy in developing countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 156-190, October.
    9. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1994. "Uninsured Idiosyncratic Risk and Aggregate Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 659-684.
    10. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
    11. Mark Aguiar & Gita Gopinath, 2007. "Emerging Market Business Cycles: The Cycle Is the Trend," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 69-102.
    12. Mark Aguiar & Manuel Amador & Gita Gopinath, 2005. "Efficient Fiscal Policy and Amplification," NBER Working Papers 11490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Enrique G. Mendoza & P. Marcelo Oviedo, 2009. "Public Debt, Fiscal Solvency and Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Latin America The Cases of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico," Economía Mexicana NUEVA ÉPOCA, , vol. 0(2), pages 133-173, July-Dece.
    14. Bennett W Sutton & Luis Catão, 2002. "Sovereign Defaults; The Role of Volatility," IMF Working Papers 02/149, International Monetary Fund.
    15. Lane, Philip & Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria, "undated". "External Wealth of Nations," Instructional Stata datasets for econometrics extwealth, Boston College Department of Economics.
    16. Michael Gavin & Roberto Perotti, 1997. "Fiscal Policy in Latin America," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1997, Volume 12, pages 11-72 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Enrique G. Mendoza, 1991. "Capital Controls and the Gains from Trade in a Business Cycle Model of a Small Open Economy," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 38(3), pages 480-505, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12586. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.