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Government Debt and Economic Growth – Decomposing the Cause and Effect Relationship


  • Swamy, Vighneswara


The rising government debt levels in the aftermath of global financial crisis and the ongoing euro zone debt crisis have necessitated the revival of the academic and policy debate on the impact of growing debt levels on growth. This study provides a data–rich analysis of the dynamics of government debt and economic growth for a longer period (1960–2009). It spans across different debt regimes and involves a worldwide sample of countries that is more representative than that of studies confined to advanced countries. This study observes a negative relationship between government debt and growth. The point estimates of the range of econometric specifications suggest a 10-percentage point increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio is associated with 23 basis point reduction in average growth. Our results establish the nonlinear relationship between debt and growth. Further, by employing panel vector auto regressions (PVAR) approach, this study decomposes the cause and effect relationship between debt and growth and offers an answer to the question – Does high debt lead to low growth or low growth leads to high debt? The results derived from the impulse–response functions and variance decomposition show the evidence of long-term effect of debt on economic growth. The results indicate that the effect is not uniform for all countries, but depends mostly on the debt regimes and other important macroeconomic variables like; inflation, trade openness, general government final consumption expenditure and foreign direct investment.

Suggested Citation

  • Swamy, Vighneswara, 2015. "Government Debt and Economic Growth – Decomposing the Cause and Effect Relationship," MPRA Paper 64105, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:64105

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    References listed on IDEAS

    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. 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.
    3. Gilles Saint-Paul, 1992. "Fiscal Policy in an Endogenous Growth Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(4), pages 1243-1259.
    4. Balázs Égert, 2015. "Public debt, economic growth and nonlinear effects: Myth or reality?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 226-238.
    5. 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.
    6. Baum, Anja & Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2013. "Debt and growth: New evidence for the euro area," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 809-821.
    7. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
    8. Easterly, William & Rebelo, Sergio, 1993. "Fiscal policy and economic growth: An empirical investigation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 417-458, December.
    9. Alfred Greiner, 2013. "Debt and growth: Is there a non-monotonic relation?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 33(1), pages 340-347.
    10. Adam, Christopher S. & Bevan, David L., 2005. "Fiscal deficits and growth in developing countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(4), pages 571-597, April.
    11. S M Ali Abbas & Jakob E Christensen, 2010. "The Role of Domestic Debt Markets in Economic Growth: An Empirical Investigation for Low-Income Countries and Emerging Markets," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 57(1), pages 209-255, April.
    12. Jaejoon Woo & Manmohan S. Kumar, 2010. "Public Debt and Growth," IMF Working Papers 10/174, International Monetary Fund.
    13. Reinhart, Carmen & Rogoff, Kenneth, 2010. "Debt and Growth Revisited," MPRA Paper 24376, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Lof, Matthijs & Malinen, Tuomas, 2014. "Does sovereign debt weaken economic growth? A panel VAR analysis," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 122(3), pages 403-407.
    15. Checherita-Westphal, Cristina & Rother, Philipp, 2012. "The impact of high government debt on economic growth and its channels: An empirical investigation for the euro area," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1392-1405.
    16. Teles, Vladimir K. & Cesar Mussolini, Caio, 2014. "Public debt and the limits of fiscal policy to increase economic growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 1-15.
    17. Aizenman, Joshua & Kletzer, Kenneth, 2007. "Economic Growth with Constraints on Tax Revenues and Public Debt: Implications for Fiscal Policy and Cross-Country Differences," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt9421k9hq, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
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    1. repec:gam:jecomi:v:6:y:2018:i:1:p:10-:d:130247 is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item


    Government Debt; economic growth; panel data; nonlinearity; country groupings;

    JEL classification:

    • C33 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Models with Panel Data; Spatio-temporal Models
    • C36 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Instrumental Variables (IV) Estimation
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O50 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - General

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