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Debt and Macroeconomic Stability: An Overview of the Literature and Some Empirics

  • Douglas Sutherland
  • Peter Hoeller

How does debt affect macroeconomic stability? The answer to this question has important implications, because both public and private debt levels have reached historic highs across the OECD. While accumulating debt can help smooth real activity, at high levels debt creates weaknesses in corporate, household and government balance sheets. High debt levels can create vulnerabilities, which amplify and transmit macroeconomic and asset price shocks across the economy and internationally. The empirical evidence shows that high debt levels impair the ability of households and enterprises to smooth consumption and investment and of governments to cushion adverse shocks. The empirical evidence also suggests that when private sector debt levels, particularly for households, rise above trend the likelihood of recession increases. Furthermore, when debt levels are high, recessions tend to be more severe. Dette et stabilité macroéconomique : Aperçu général des études existantes et faits constatés Quels sont les effets de l’endettement sur la stabilité macroéconomique ? La réponse à cette question a des conséquences importantes car les niveaux d’endettement publics et privés atteignent des sommets historiques dans les pays de l’OCDE. S’il est vrai que l’accumulation de dettes peut aider à lisser l’activité réelle, un endettement élevé affaiblit les bilans des entreprises, des ménages et de l’État. Un fort endettement peut être à l’origine de vulnérabilités, qui amplifient et répercutent les chocs macroéconomiques et les variations des prix des actifs dans l’économie et au plan international. L’expérience montre que des niveaux élevés d’endettement limitent la possibilité pour les ménages et les entreprises de lisser leur consommation et leurs investissements et, pour les gouvernements, d’amortir les chocs défavorables. Les données d’observations semblent aussi indiquer que lorsque la dette du secteur privé, en particulier celle des ménages, dépasse la tendance, la probabilité de récession s’accroît. Par ailleurs, lorsque les niveaux d’endettement sont élevés, les récessions sont généralement plus sévères.

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Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Economics Department Working Papers with number 1006.

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Date of creation: 07 Dec 2012
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Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:1006-en
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