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Wealth inequality and the optimal level of government debt

  • Sigrid Röhrs
  • Christoph Winter

In this paper, we quantitatively analyze to what extent a benevolent government should issue debt in a model where households are subject to idiosyncratic productivity shocks, insurance markets are missing and borrowing is restricted. In this environment, issuing government bonds facilitates saving for self-insurance. Despite this, we find that in a calibrated version of the model that is consistent with the skewed wealth and earnings distribution observable in the U.S., the government should buy private bonds, and not issue public debt in the long run. The reason is that in the U.S., a large fraction of the population has almost no wealth or is even in debt. The wealth-poor, however, do not profit from an increase in the interest rate following an increase in public debt. Instead, they gain from higher wages that result from a reduction in debt. We show that even when the short run costs of higher capital taxation are taken into account, it still pays off to reduce government debt on overall. Moreover, we find that endogenizing household’s borrowing constraints by assuming limited commitment leads to even higher asset levels being optimal in the long run.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics - University of Zurich in its series ECON - Working Papers with number 051.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:051
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  1. DAVILA, Julio & HONG, Jay H. & KRUSELL, Per & RIOS-RULL, José-Victor, . "Constrained efficiency in the neoclassical growth model with uninsurable idiosyncratic shocks," CORE Discussion Papers RP -2463, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  2. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michèle Tertilt, 2007. "Accounting for the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies," NBER Working Papers 13363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Satyajit Chatterjee & Dean Corbae & Makoto Nakajima & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2007. "A Quantitative Theory of Unsecured Consumer Credit with Risk of Default," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(6), pages 1525-1589, November.
  4. Heathcote, Jonathan, 1999. "Fiscal Policy with Heterogeneous Agents and Incomplete Markets," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 319, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 28 Jul 1999.
  5. Piero Gottardi & Atsushi Kajii & Tomoyuki Nakajima, 2014. "Constrained Inefficiency and Optimal Taxation with Uninsurable Risks," KIER Working Papers 694, Kyoto University, Institute of Economic Research.
  6. S. Rao Aiyagari & Albert Marcet & Thomas J. Sargent & Juha Seppala, 2002. "Optimal Taxation without State-Contingent Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(6), pages 1220-1254, December.
  7. Mathias Trabandt & Harald Uhlig, 2009. "How Far Are We From The Slippery Slope? The Laffer Curve Revisited," NBER Working Papers 15343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Kehoe, Timothy J & Levine, David K, 2001. "Liquidity Constrained Markets versus Debt Constrained Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(3), pages 575-98, May.
  9. Acemoglu, Daron & Golosov, Mikhail & Tsyvinski, Aleh, 2008. "Markets versus governments," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 159-189, January.
  10. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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