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Time Consistent Debt


  • Per Krusell
  • Fernando M. Martin
  • Jose-Victor Rios-Rull


In this paper we address the time-inconsistency of optimal debt policy—the incentive for a current government to “manipulate interest rates†—raised in Lucas and Stokey’s celebrated 1983 paper. The literature that followed suggested various ways to fully overcome the timeconsistency problem or support the commitment outcome despite the lack of commitment. Perhaps surprisingly, however, there is no analysis of what an equilibrium would look like in the basic model with one-period bonds. The present paper provides this analysis. Our main result is striking: the time series of debt in the economy without commitment is extremely similar (though not identical) to that with commitment, and welfare is very similar as well. This result is surprising: under commitment, there is always an incentive for a once-and-for-all tax cut/debt hike, thus suggesting ever-increasing debt under lack of commitment. However, we show that the incentives that naturally arise in the dynamic game between successive governments actually help limit the time-consistency problem: they lead to very limited debt accumulation, and long-run debt levels can even be lower than under commitment. This incentive mechanism is a result of forward-looking and strategic use of debt and of nonconvexities whose fundamental origin is the disagreement between consecutive governments: the time-consistency problem. We thus learn from our analysis that, in stark contrast to other contexts (e.g, the case of capital income taxation), the time-consistency problems associated with interest-rate manipulation are not as severe as may first appear. The incentives generated by the successive interactions of rational governments all but eliminate the problem, without added instruments—such as a rich maturity structure of the government’s debt portfolio—and without institutional reforms

Suggested Citation

  • Per Krusell & Fernando M. Martin & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2006. "Time Consistent Debt," 2006 Meeting Papers 210, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed006:210

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    Cited by:

    1. Stefan Niemann & Paul Pichler, 2017. "Collateral, Liquidity and Debt Sustainability," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 127(604), pages 2093-2126, September.
    2. Krusell, Per & Rudanko, Leena, 2016. "Unions in a frictional labor market," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 35-50.
    3. Den Haan, Wouter J. & Kobielarz, Michal L. & Rendahl, Pontus, 2015. "Exact present solution with consistent future approximation: a gridless algorithm to solve stochastic dynamic models," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86278, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Zheng Song & Kjetil Storesletten & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2012. "Rotten Parents and Disciplined Children: A Politico‐Economic Theory of Public Expenditure and Debt," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 80(6), pages 2785-2803, November.
    5. Salvador Ortigueira & Joana Pereira, 2007. "Markov-Perfect Optimal Fiscal Policy: The Case of Unbalanced Budgets," Economics Working Papers ECO2007/41, European University Institute.
    6. Debortoli, Davide & Nunes, Ricardo, 2010. "Fiscal policy under loose commitment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 145(3), pages 1005-1032, May.

    More about this item


    Government debt; markov equilibria; time-consistency;

    JEL classification:

    • 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


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