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The 90% Public Debt Threshold: The Rise and Fall of a Stylised Fact

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  • Balázs Égert

    (OECD)

Abstract

This paper puts the original Reinhart-Rogoff dataset, made public by Herndon et al. (2013), to a formal econometric test to pin down debt thresholds endogenously. We show that the nonlinear relation from debt to growth is not very robust. Taken with a pinch of salt, our results suggest, however, that a negative association between debt and growth may set in at debt levels as low as 20% of GDP. Further (and greater) thresholds may exist but their magnitude is highly uncertain. For general government debt (1960-2009), the threshold beyond which this negative relation kicks in is considerably higher at about 50%. Finally, individual country estimates reveal a large amount of cross-country heterogeneity. For some countries including the United States, a nonlinear negative link can be detected at about 30% of GDP. For others, the thresholds are surrounded by a great amount of uncertainty or no nonlinearities can be established. This instability may be a result of threshold effects changing over time within countries and depending on economic conditions, not captured in our estimations. Overall, our results can be seen as a formal econometric confirmation that the 90% public debt threshold is not in the Reinhart-Rogoff data. But our results also seem to suggest that public debt be associated with poor economic performance at fairly moderate public debt levels. If high debt results in low growth, an issue of causality that is not systematically examined in this paper, then this suggests rather low debt-GDP ratios would be appropriate. Furthermore, the absence of threshold effects or low estimated thresholds may not preclude the emergence of further threshold effects, especially as public debt levels are rising to unprecedentedly high levels. Le seuil de la dette publique à 90 % : L'ascension et la chute d'un fait stylisé Ce document met la base de données originale de Reinhart et Rogoff, rendu public par Herndon et al. (2013), à un test économétrique formelle afin d’identifier des seuils de la dette de façon endogène. Nous montrons que la relation non linéaire de la dette à la croissance n'est pas très robuste. Pris avec une pincée de sel, nos résultats suggèrent, cependant, qu'une association négative entre la dette et la croissance peut exister à un niveau d'endettement aussi bas que 20% du PIB. D'autres seuils (plus élevés) peuvent exister, mais leur ampleur est hautement incertaine. Pour la dette consolidée des administrations publiques (1960 2009), le seuil au-delà duquel cette relation négative entre en action est considérablement plus élevée à environ 50%. Enfin, les estimations des différents pays révèlent une grande hétérogénéité entre les pays. Pour certains pays, dont les États-Unis, un lien négatif non linéaire peut être détecté à environ 30% du PIB. Pour d'autres, les seuils sont entourés d'une grande incertitude ou aucuns effets non-linéaires ne peuvent être établis. Cette instabilité peut être le résultat d'effets de seuil en évolution au fil du temps au sein des pays et en fonction des conditions économiques, ne figurent pas dans nos estimations. Dans l'ensemble, nos résultats peuvent être considérés comme une confirmation économétrique formelle que le seuil de la dette publique à 90% n'est pas dans les données de Reinhart et Rogoff. Mais nos résultats semblent également indiquer que la dette publique est associée à une mauvaise performance économique à des niveaux d'endettement public relativement modérés. Si une dette publique entraine une faible croissance économique, une question de causalité qui n'est pas systématiquement examinée dans le présent document, alors ceci suggère que de plutôt faibles ratios d'endettement publiques du PIB serait approprié. En outre, l'absence d'effets de seuil ou de faibles seuils estimés ne peut pas empêcher l'émergence de nouveaux effets de seuil, d'autant plus que les niveaux de la dette publique sont en hausse à des niveaux sans précédent.

Suggested Citation

  • Balázs Égert, 2013. "The 90% Public Debt Threshold: The Rise and Fall of a Stylised Fact," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1055, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:1055-en
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k452kln1s6l-en
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Thomas Herndon & Michael Ash & Robert Pollin, 2014. "Does high public debt consistently stifle economic growth? A critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 257-279.
    2. Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2010. "The impact of high and growing government debt on economic growth: an empirical investigation for the euro area," Working Paper Series 1237, European Central Bank.
    3. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2014. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 21-41.
    4. Crespo Cuaresma, Jesus & Doppelhofer, Gernot, 2007. "Nonlinearities in cross-country growth regressions: A Bayesian Averaging of Thresholds (BAT) approach," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 541-554, September.
    5. Stephen Cecchetti & Madhusudan Mohanty & Fabrizio Zampolli, 2011. "The real effects of debt," BIS Working Papers 352, Bank for International Settlements.
    6. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2010. "Growth in a Time of Debt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 573-578, May.
    7. Carmen M. Reinhart & Vincent R. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2012. "Public Debt Overhangs: Advanced-Economy Episodes since 1800," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 69-86, Summer.
    8. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2015. "Public Debt and Growth," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 82(328), pages 705-739, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Marta Gómez-Puig & Simón Sosvilla-Rivero, 2015. "“On the bi-directional causal relationship between public debt and economic growth in EMU countries”," IREA Working Papers 201512, University of Barcelona, Research Institute of Applied Economics, revised May 2015.
    2. Markus Eberhardt, 2013. "Nonlinearities in the Relationship between Debt and Growth: Evidence from Co-Summability Testing," Discussion Papers 2013/06, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
    3. Łukasz Rawdanowicz, 2014. "Choosing the pace of fiscal consolidation," OECD Journal: Economic Studies, OECD Publishing, vol. 2013(1), pages 91-119.
    4. Panizza, Ugo & Presbitero, Andrea F., 2014. "Public debt and economic growth: Is there a causal effect?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 21-41.
    5. Ehrhart, Hélène & Minea, Alexandru & Villieu, Patrick, 2014. "Debt, seigniorage, and the Growth Laffer Curve in developing countries," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 199-210.
    6. Nicholas Crafts, 2014. "What Does the 1930s' Experience Tell Us about the Future of the Eurozone?," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 713-727, July.
    7. Nicholas Crafts, 2014. "Ireland’s Medium-Term Growth Prospects: a Phoenix Rising?," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 45(1), pages 87-112.
    8. Markus Eberhardt & Andrea F. Presbitero, 2013. "This Time They’re Different: Heterogeneity and Nonlinearity in the Relationship between Debt and Growth," Discussion Papers 2013/10, University of Nottingham, Centre for Finance, Credit and Macroeconomics (CFCM).
    9. Oblath, Gábor & Halpern, László, 2014. "A gazdasági stagnálás "színe" és fonákja. Mivel jár együtt az exporttöbblet és az adósságcsökkenés?
      [The bright" and gloomy side of economic stagnation]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(7), pages 757-800.
    10. Marta Gómez-Puig & Simón Sosvilla-Rivero, 2015. "“Short-run and long-run effects of public debt on economic performance: Evidence from EMU countries”," IREA Working Papers 201522, University of Barcelona, Research Institute of Applied Economics, revised Sep 2015.
    11. Sokbae Lee & Hyunmin Park & Myung Hwan Seo & Youngki Shin, 2014. "A contribution to the Reinhart and Rogoff debate: not 90 percent but maybe 30 percent," CeMMAP working papers CWP39/14, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    12. Yannis Dafermos, 2015. "The ‘other half’ of the public debt–economic growth relationship: a note on Reinhart and Rogoff," European Journal of Economics and Economic Policies: Intervention, Edward Elgar Publishing, vol. 12(1), pages 20-28, April.
    13. Gómez-Puig, Marta & Sosvilla-Rivero, Simón, 2015. "The causal relationship between debt and growth in EMU countries," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 974-989.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    croissance économique; dette publique; economic growth; effet de seuil; non-linéarité; nonlinearity; public debt; threshold effects;

    JEL classification:

    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
    • F3 - International Economics - - International Finance
    • F4 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation

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