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Lending to the Borrower from Hell: Debt and Default in the Age of Phillip II

  • Drelichman, Mauricio
  • Voth, Hans-Joachim

Philip II of Spain accumulated debts of over 50% of GDP. He also failed to honor them four times. We ask what allowed the sovereign to borrow much while defaulting often. Earlier work emphasized either banker irrationality or the importance of sanctions, in line with Bulow and Rogoff (1989). Using a unique dataset on 438 lending contracts derived from the archives, we show that neither interpretation is supported by the evidence. What sustained lending was the ability of bankers to cut off Philip II’s access to smoothing services. Lenders contracted with the king in overlapping syndicates, effectively creating a network of bankers. We analyze the incentive structure that supported the cohesion of this bankers’ coalition, and examine how it survived across the biggest defaults in Philip’s reign. In particular, we argue that the effectiveness of lending moratoria was sustained through a ‘cheat-the-cheater’ mechanism, in the spirit of Kletzer and Wright (2000). Since the king needed to smooth his expenditure in the face of major revenue and spending shocks, the ability of bankers to cut him off from funding was sufficient to sustain cross-border lending.

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File URL: http://mauricio.econ.ubc.ca/pdfs/borrowerfromhell.pdf
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Paper provided by Vancouver School of Economics in its series Economics working papers with number mauricio_drelichman-2008-8.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: 07 Jul 2008
Date of revision: 06 Sep 2010
Handle: RePEc:ubc:bricol:mauricio_drelichman-2008-8
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.economics.ubc.ca/

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  1. Drelichman, Mauricio & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2011. "Serial defaults, serial profits: Returns to sovereign lending in Habsburg Spain, 1566-1600," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 1-19, January.
  2. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2009. "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 8973.
  3. Kenneth M. Kletzer and Brian D. Wright., 1998. "Sovereign Debt as Intertemporal Barter," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C98-100, University of California at Berkeley.
  4. Marc Flandreau & Clemens Jobst, 2005. "The Ties that Divide: A Network Analysis of the International Monetary System, 1890-1910," Working Papers hal-01065599, HAL.
  5. Roland Bénabou, 2013. "Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(2), pages 429-462.
  6. Drelichman, Mauricio & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2007. "The Sustainable Debts of Philip II: A Reconstruction of Castile's Fiscal Position, 1566-1596," Economics working papers drelichman-07-11-06-09-33, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 08 Apr 2010.
  7. Bulow, J. & Rogoff, K., 1988. "Sovereign Debt: Is To Forgive To Forget?," Papers 411, Stockholm - International Economic Studies.
  8. Jonathan Eaton & Mark Gersovitz, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309.
  9. Andrew K. Rose, 2002. "One Reason Countries Pay their Debts: Renegotiation and International Trade," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 18, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
  10. Rui Pedro Esteves, 2007. "Quis custodiet quem? Sovereign Debt and Bondholders` Protection Before 1914," Economics Series Working Papers 323, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  11. Andrew Atkeson, 2010. "International lending with moral hazard and risk of repudiation," Levine's Working Paper Archive 200, David K. Levine.
  12. Drelichman, Mauricio, 2005. "The curse of Moctezuma: American silver and the Dutch disease," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 349-380, July.
  13. Cole, Harold L. & Kehoe, Patrick J., 1995. "The role of institutions in reputation models of sovereign debt," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 45-64, February.
  14. Jeremy I. Bulow & Kenneth Rogoff, 1986. "A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt," NBER Working Papers 2088, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Lvarez-Nogal, Carlos & Prados De La Escosura, Leandro, 2007. "The decline of Spain (1500 1850): conjectural estimates," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(03), pages 319-366, December.
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  17. Álvarez Nogal, Carlos, 2003. "The role of institutions to solve sovereing debt problems : the Spanish monarchy's credit (1516-1665)," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wh030804, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
  18. Natalia Kovrijnykh & Balázs Szentes, 2007. "Equilibrium Default Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 403-446.
  19. Flandreau, Marc & Jobst, Clemens, 2005. "The Ties that Divide. A Network Analysis of the International Monetary System," CEPR Discussion Papers 5129, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  20. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/605 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Jeffrey D. Sachs, 1989. "Introduction to "Developing Country Debt and the World Economy"," NBER Chapters, in: Developing Country Debt and the World Economy, pages 1-34 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Flandreau, Marc & Flores, Juan H., 2009. "Bonds and Brands: Foundations of Sovereign Debt Markets, 1820–1830," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 646-684, September.
  23. Herschel I. Grossman & John B. Van Huyck, 1985. "Sovereign Debt as a Contingent Claim: Excusable Default, Repudiation, and Reputation," NBER Working Papers 1673, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Mitchener, Kris James & Weidenmier, Marc D., 2010. "Supersanctions and sovereign debt repayment," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 19-36, February.
  25. James Conklin, 1998. "The Theory of Sovereign Debt and Spain under Philip II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(3), pages 483-513, June.
  26. Kris James Mitchener & Marc D. Weidenmier, 2005. "Supersanctions and Sovereign Debt Repayment," NBER Working Papers 11472, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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