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Public Debt, Fiscal Solvency & Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Emerging Markets: The Tale of the Tormented Insurer


  • Marcelo Oviedo
  • Enrique G. Mendoza


Governments in emerging markets often behave like a "tormented insurer" struggling to smooth government outlays given the randomness of public revenues in a world with "liability dollarization" in which they can only issue debt denominated in hard currencies, or indexed to tradable goods prices. How can a fiscal authority tell if the stock of public debt is consistent with fiscal solvency in this environment? This paper proposes a quantitative framework that aims to answer this question. The framework emphasizes non-insurable macroeconomic uncertainty and the transmission mechanism by which this uncertainty affects debt dynamics when asset markets are incomplete. A government making a credible commitment to repay cannot borrow above a "natural" debt limit set by the annuity value of the "catastrophic" level of the primary balance. This limit, and the likelihood that the government may hit it along an equilibrium path, are partly determined by tax and expenditure policies, but they also depend on endogenous and exogenous variables outside the government's control. Liability dollarization implies that endogenous fluctuations of the real exchange rate influence the variability of tax revenues and the government's ability to service debt, and thus affect the natural debt limit and public debt dynamics. The paper quantifies the dynamics of public debt implied by the competitive equilibrium of a two-sector small open economy subject to exogenous shocks to income and the world interest rate, given tax and expenditure policies. The resulting short- and long-run distributions of debt-output ratios can deviate sharply from conventional sustainable debt ratios

Suggested Citation

  • Marcelo Oviedo & Enrique G. Mendoza, 2004. "Public Debt, Fiscal Solvency & Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Emerging Markets: The Tale of the Tormented Insurer," 2004 Meeting Papers 14, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:14

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    Cited by:

    1. Ovalle, Raul & Ramírez, Francisco A., 2014. "Reglas versus Discreción en la Política Fiscal: Introducción al caso Dominicano [Rules vs Discretion in Fiscal Policy: An Introduction to the Case of the Dominican Republic]," MPRA Paper 68332, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Wright, Allan & Ramirez, Francisco A., 2020. "What are the Fiscal Limits for the Developing Economies of Central America and the Caribbean?," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 8269, Inter-American Development Bank.
    3. Fatih AKBAYIR & Ahmet Burçin YERELİ, 2019. "Estimating Fiscal Space: The Theoretical Framework of Ostry et al. Approach," Sosyoekonomi Journal, Sosyoekonomi Society, issue 27(39).

    More about this item


    Fiscal solvency; incomplete markets; sustainable debt;

    JEL classification:

    • F4 - International Economics - - Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook


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