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The Economic Consequences of the 1953 London Debt Agreement

Author

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  • Gregori Galofré-Vilà
  • Martin McKee
  • Christopher M. Meissner
  • David Stuckler

Abstract

In 1953 the Western Allied powers implemented a radical debt-relief plan that would, in due course, eliminate half of West Germany’s external debt and create a series of favourable debt repayment conditions. The London Debt Agreement (LDA) correlated with West Germany experiencing the highest rate of economic growth recorded in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. In this paper we examine the economic consequences of this historical episode. We use new data compiled from the monthly reports of the Deutsche Bundesbank from 1948 to the 1960s. These reports not only provide detailed statistics of the German finances, but also a narrative on the evolution of the German economy on a monthly basis. These sources also contain special issues on the LDA, highlighting contemporaries’ interest in the state of German public finances and public opinion on the debt negotiation. We find evidence that debt relief in the LDA spurred economic growth in three main ways: creating fiscal space for public investment; lowering costs of borrowing; and stabilising inflation. Using difference-in-differences regression models comparing pre- and post-LDA years, we find that the LDA was associated with a substantial rise in real per capita social expenditure, in health, education, housing, and economic development, this rise being significantly over and above changes in other types of spending that include military expenditure. We further observe that benchmark yields on long-term debt, an indication of default risk, dropped substantially in West Germany when LDA negotiations began in 1951 and then stabilised at historically low rates after the LDA was ratified. The LDA coincided with new foreign borrowing and investment, which in turn helped promote economic growth. Finally, the German currency, the deutschmark, introduced in 1948, had been highly volatile until 1953, after which time we find it largely stabilised.

Suggested Citation

  • Gregori Galofré-Vilà & Martin McKee & Christopher M. Meissner & David Stuckler, 2016. "The Economic Consequences of the 1953 London Debt Agreement," NBER Working Papers 22557, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22557
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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Debt forgiveness in the German mirror
      by nmpostelvinay in NEP-HIS blog on 2016-10-12 17:55:09

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • E65 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Studies of Particular Policy Episodes
    • N44 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: 1913-

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