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How "Original Sin" was Overcome: The Evolution of External Debt Denominated in Domestic Currencies in the United States and the British Dominions

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  • Michael D. Bordo
  • Christopher Meissner
  • Angela Redish

Abstract

This paper examines the historical origins of "Original Sin" or why countries are unable to issue long term debt domestically or borrow abroad in terms of the domestic currency. We conduct an historical case study for a group of countries that had largely overcome the problem of Original Sin by the third quarter of the twentieth century. The group consists of several former colonies of Great Britain: the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We trace out their debt history relating the currency to the place of issue, exploring the residency of those holding local and foreign currency debt and looking at the maturity of domestic debt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We find that sound fiscal institutions, high credibility of the monetary regime and good financial development are not sufficient to completely break free from Original Sin. Conversely, poor performance in these policy realms is not, for the most part, a necessary condition for Original Sin. The factor we emphasize for the common movements across the five countries is the role of shocks such as wars, massive economic disruption and the emergence of global markets. The differences in evolution between the U.S. and the Dominions we attribute to differences in size, the traits of a key currency, which the U.S. possessed and the others did not, and to membership in the British Empire. The important role of major shocks suggests that the establishment of a bond market involved significant start-up costs, while the role of scale suggests that network externalities and liquidity were pivotal in the existence of overseas markets in domestic currency debt.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Bordo & Christopher Meissner & Angela Redish, 2003. "How "Original Sin" was Overcome: The Evolution of External Debt Denominated in Domestic Currencies in the United States and the British Dominions," NBER Working Papers 9841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9841
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Flandreau, Marc & Sussman, Nathan, 2004. "Old Sins: Exchange Rate Clauses and European Foreign Lending in the 19th Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 4248, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Bordo Michael D. & Kydland Finn E., 1995. "The Gold Standard As a Rule: An Essay in Exploration," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 423-464, October.
    3. Trevor, Robert G & Donald, Stephen G, 1986. "Exchange Rate Regimes and the Volatility of Financial Prices: The Australian Case," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 0(0), pages 58-66, Supplemen.
    4. Michael D. Bordo & Angela Redish, 1990. "Credible Commitment and Exchange Rate Stability: Canada's Interwar Experience," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 23(2), pages 357-380, May.
    5. Barry Eichengreen & Ricardo Hausmann, 1999. "Exchange rates and financial fragility," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 329-368.
    6. Ricardo J. Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2003. "Excessive Dollar Debt: Financial Development and Underinsurance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 58(2), pages 867-894, April.
    7. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen, 1999. "Is our Current International Economic Environment Unusually Crisis Prone?," RBA Annual Conference Volume,in: David Gruen & Luke Gower (ed.), Capital Flows and the International Financial System Reserve Bank of Australia.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions

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