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Two Hundred Years of Bankruptcy: A Tale of Legislation and Economic Fluctuations


  • Ian Domowitz
  • Elie Tamer


We investigate two interrelated questions concerning the institution of bankruptcy. First, is there a link between legislative activity and business cycle fluctuations, and if so, what is its character? Legislative activity from 1790 through 1994 is documented and matched with business cycle data. A historical description is provided for the period prior to the availability of reliable data on aggregate income and related statistics. Alternative statistical models are formulated and estimated, beginning with data in 1830. The historical discussion and empirical analysis support the proposition that legislative initiatives with respect to bankruptcy are countercyclical in nature. This finding complements much current literature on institutional change, which places an emphasis on constituency interests and consensus building in the timing of legislation. Second, do legal changes affect the level of bankruptcy activity in the aggregate? This question is motivated by theoretical considerations, previous work on the impact of the 1978 Bankruptcy Reform Act, and current creditor arguments that lenient statutes contribute to large increases in bankruptcy filing rates. We provide a model that links observed filing activity to the notion of a frictional bankruptcy rate, driven by income, debt, interest rate, and inflation factors. The null hypothesis of no legislative impact on filings cannot be rejected for pro-creditor legislation, but is rejected for pro-debtor initiatives, taking legislation since 1898 into account. This finding is attributable to developments prior to 1939, however. Over the 1939-1992 period, we find little support for legislative impacts on filings, in both the short and long run.

Suggested Citation

  • Ian Domowitz & Elie Tamer, "undated". "Two Hundred Years of Bankruptcy: A Tale of Legislation and Economic Fluctuations," IPR working papers 97-25, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:nwuipr:97-25

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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Bolton, 2003. "Toward a Statutory Approach to Sovereign Debt Restructuring; Lessons From Corporate Bankruptcy Practice Around the World," IMF Working Papers 03/13, International Monetary Fund.
    2. Jérôme Sgard, 2006. "On Legal Origins and Brankruptcy Laws: the European Experience (1808-1914)," Sciences Po publications 2006-26, Sciences Po.
    3. repec:dau:papers:123456789/13599 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Jérôme Sgard, 2006. "On Legal Origins and Brankruptcy Laws: the European Experience (1808-1914)," Working Papers hal-01065660, HAL.
    5. Patrick Bolton & Howard Rosenthal, 2002. "Political Intervention in Debt Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(5), pages 1103-1134, October.
    6. Song Han & Wenli Li, 2007. "Fresh Start or Head Start? The Effects of Filing for Personal Bankruptcy on Work Effort," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 31(2), pages 123-152, June.
    7. Jérôme Sgard, 2006. "Do legal origins matter? The case of bankruptcy laws in Europe 1808-1914," Post-Print hal-01021354, HAL.
    8. Ronel Elul & Narayanan Subramanian, 2002. "Forum-Shopping and Personal Bankruptcy," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 21(3), pages 233-255, June.
    9. Patrick Bolton & Howard Rosenthal, 1999. "The Political Economy of Debt Moratoria, Bailouts and Bankruptcy," Research Department Publications 3068, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.

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