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Financing vs. Forgiving a Debt Overhang

  • Paul R. Krugman

This paper examines the tradeoffs facing creditors of a country whose debt is large enough that the country cannot attract voluntary new lending. If the country is unable to meet its debt service requirements out of current income, the creditors have two choices. They can finance the country, lending at an expected loss in the hope that the country will eventually be able to repay its debt after all; or they can forgive, reducing the debt level to one that the country can repay. The post-1983 debt strategy of the IMF and the US has relied on financing, but many current calls for debt reform call for forgiveness instead. The paper shows that the choice between financing and forgiveness represents a tradeoff. Financing gives the creditors an option value: if the country turns out to do relatively well, creditors will not have written down their claims unnecessarily. However, the burden of debt distorts the country's incentives, since the benefits of good performance go largely to creditors rather than itself. The paper also shows that the tradeoff itself can be improved if both financing and forgiveness are made contingent on states of nature that the country cannot affect, such as oil prices, world interest rates, etc.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2486.

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Date of creation: Jan 1988
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 29, pp. 253-268, (1988).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2486
Note: ITI IFM
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1989. "A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(1), pages 155-78, February.
  2. Jonathan Eaton & Mark Gersovitz & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1986. "The Pure Theory of Country Risk," NBER Working Papers 1894, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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