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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. Bulow, Jeremy & Rogoff, Kenneth, 1989. "A Constant Recontracting Model of Sovereign Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(1), pages 155-78, February.
  2. Rose, Andrew K., 2005. "One reason countries pay their debts: renegotiation and international trade," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 189-206, June.
  3. Bénabou, Roland, 2009. "Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers 7193, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. 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.
  5. Natalia Kovrijnykh & Balázs Szentes, 2007. "Equilibrium Default Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 403-446.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Atkeson, Andrew, 1991. "International Lending with Moral Hazard and Risk of Repudiation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(4), pages 1069-89, July.
  9. repec:att:wimass:8813 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Flandreau, Marc & Jobst, Clemens, 2005. "The Ties that Divide: A Network Analysis of the International Monetary System, 1890 1910," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(04), pages 977-1007, December.
  11. 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.
  12. Kris James Mitchener & Marc D. Weidenmier, 2005. "Supersanctions and Sovereign Debt Repayment," NBER Working Papers 11472, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Jeremy Bulow & Kenneth Rogoff, 1998. "Sovereign Debt: Is to Forgive to Forget," Levine's Working Paper Archive 209, David K. Levine.
  16. Brian D. Wright & Kenneth M. Kletzer, 2000. "Sovereign Debt as Intertemporal Barter," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 621-639, June.
  17. 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.
  18. Fernandez, Raquel & Rosenthal, Robert W, 1990. "Strategic Models of Sovereign-Debt Renegotiations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(3), pages 331-49, July.
  19. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/605 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. 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.
  21. Grossman, Herschel I & Van Huyck, John B, 1988. "Sovereign Debt as a Contingent Claim: Excusable Default, Repudiation, and Reputation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(5), pages 1088-97, December.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Eaton, Jonathan & Gersovitz, Mark, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309, April.
  25. 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.
  26. Carlos Álvarez, 2003. "The Role Of Institutions To Solve Sovereing Debt Problems: The Spanish Monarchy´S Credit (1516-1665)," Working Papers in Economic History wh030804, Universidad Carlos III, Instituto Figuerola de Historia y Ciencias Sociales.
  27. 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.
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