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Using Inflation to Erode the U.S. Public Debt

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  • Joshua Aizenman
  • Nancy Marion

Abstract

As a share of GDP, the U.S. Federal debt held by the public exceeds 50 percent in FY2009, the highest debt ratio since 1955. Projections indicate the debt ratio may be in the 70-100 percent range within ten years. In many respects, the temptation to inflate away some of this debt burden is similar to that at the end of World War II. In 1946, the debt ratio was 108.6 percent. Inflation reduced this ratio about 40 percent within a decade. Yet there are some important differences -shorter debt maturities today reduce the temptation to inflate, while the larger share held by foreigners increases it. This paper lays out an analytical framework for determining the impact of a large nominal debt overhang on the temptation to inflate. It suggests that when economic growth is stalled, the U.S. debt overhang may trigger an increase in inflation of about 5 percent for several years. This additional inflation would significantly reduce the debt ratio, even with some shortening of debt maturities.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Aizenman & Nancy Marion, 2009. "Using Inflation to Erode the U.S. Public Debt," NBER Working Papers 15562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15562
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
    • F4 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
    • H6 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt

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