Initiatives to reduce public debt in low-income countries have made substantial progress over the past decade, but challenges remain and continue to evolve. This column presents the findings from a new IMF-World Bank report on these developments. Low-income countries have benefited from debt relief and favourable economic conditions, resulting in generally lower debt burdens and vulnerabilities. There has also been a shift in debt financing, with greater reliance on emerging market economies, international capital markets, and domestic sources. However, more recently, risks have begun to re-emerge necessitating fiscal prudence and improved debt management.
Alex Pienkowski, Joyce Saito, Suchanan Tambunlertchai, 28 March 2016
Richard Baldwin, Francesco Giavazzi, 07 September 2015
The EZ Crisis is a long way from finished. The latest VoxEU eBook presents a consensus view of what caused the Crisis and why. It argues that this was a classic ‘sudden stop’ crisis – not a public-debt crisis. Excessive, cross-border lending and borrowing among EZ members in the pre-Crisis years – much of which ended up in non-traded sectors – was why Greece’s deficit deceit in 2009 could trigger such a massive crisis. The ultimate causes were policy failures that allowed the imbalances to get so large, a lack of institutions to absorb shocks at the EZ level, and poor crisis management.
Alex Pienkowski, Pablo Anaya, 06 August 2015
During the Global Crisis, sovereign debt-to-GDP ratios grew substantially in the face of shocks to growth, increased fiscal deficits, bank recapitalisation costs, and rising borrowing costs. This column looks at how these various shocks interact with each other to exacerbate or mitigate the eventual impact on debt. Choice of monetary policy regime is an important determinant of how public debt reacts to these shocks.
Sebastian Edwards, 04 March 2015
There were 24 sovereign defaults and debt restructurings between 1997 and 2013. Using data on 180 debt restructurings – for both sovereign bonds and sovereign syndicated bank loans – this column argues that the roughly 75% ‘haircut’ Argentina imposed on its creditors in 2005 was an outlier. Greece’s ‘haircut’ of roughly 64% in 2012, by contrast, was in line with previous experience.
Lars Feld, Christoph Schmidt, Isabel Schnabel, Benjamin Weigert, Volker Wieland, 20 February 2015
Claims that ‘austerity has failed’ are popular, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. This column argues that this narrative is factually wrong and ignores the reasons underlying the Greek crisis. The worst move for Greece would be to return to its old ways. Greece needs to realise that things could actually become much worse than they are now, particularly if membership in the Eurozone cannot be assured. Instead of looking back, Greece needs to continue building a functioning state and a functioning market economy.
Hans Holter, Dirk Krueger, Serhiy Stepanchuk, 20 February 2015
Since the Global Crisis, debt sustainability has received increasing attention. This column argues that the maximum sustainable debt level depends negatively on the progressivity of the tax system. The authors estimate that the US is still relatively far from the peak of its Laffer curve and from its maximally sustainable debt level. However, adopting a flat tax would raise the maximum sustainable debt from 330% to more than 350% of benchmark GDP, whereas adopting Danish-style progressivity would lower it to less than 250%.
Julio Escolano, Laura Jaramillo, Carlos Mulas-Granados, Gilbert Terrier, 27 February 2015
Fiscal consolidation is back at the top of the policy agenda. This column provides historical context by examining 91 episodes of fiscal consolidation in advanced and developing economies between 1945 and 2012. By focusing on cases in which the adjustment was necessary and desired in order to stabilise the debt-to-GDP ratio, the authors find larger average fiscal adjustments than previous studies. Most consolidation episodes resulted in stabilisation of the debt-to-GDP ratio, but at a new, higher level.
Jean-Pierre Landau, 02 December 2014
Eurozone inflation has been persistently declining for almost a year, and constantly undershooting forecasts. Building on existing research, this column explores the conjecture that low inflation in the Eurozone results from an excess demand for safe assets. If true, this conjecture would have definite policy implications. Getting out of such a ‘safety trap’ would necessitate fiscal or non-conventional monetary policies tailored to temporarily take risk away from private balance sheets.
Jagjit Chadha, 02 November 2014
The impact of the stock and maturity of government debt on longer-term bond yields matters for monetary policy. This column assesses the magnitude and relative importance of overall bond supply and maturity effects on longer-term US Treasury interest rates using data from 1976 to 2008. Both factors have a significant impact on both forwards and term premia, but maturity of public debt appears to matter more. The results have implications for exit from unconventional policies, and also for the links between monetary and fiscal policy and debt management.
Biagio Bossone, Thomas Fazi, Richard Wood, 01 October 2014
High debt and deflation have afflicted Japan, the Eurozone, and the US. However, the monetary and fiscal policies implemented so far have been disappointing. This column discusses the importance of helicopter money in the form of overt monetary financing in addressing these problems. Overt money financing is the policy with the highest impact in raising demand and output without increasing public debt and interest rates.
Francesco Giavazzi, Guido Tabellini, 21 August 2014
The stagnating Eurozone economy requires policy action. This column argues that EZ leaders should agree a coordinated 5% tax cut, extension of budget deficit targets by 3 or 4 years, and issuance of long-term public debt to be purchased by the ECB without sterilisation.
Ricardo Reis, Jens Hilscher, Alon Raviv, 07 August 2014
Faced with daunting levels of public debt, it may be tempting to inflate away the burden. Some recent research has endorsed such a policy, but this column argues that it is infeasible. The rule of thumb that suggests an inflation rate four percentage points higher would reduce debt by 20% ignores creditor composition and maturity details, even if a 6% inflation rate were achievable. The hard truth is that there is no easy way out of debt.
Fernando Broner, Aitor Erce, Alberto Martin, Jaume Ventura, 23 July 2014
Since 2010, Eurozone periphery countries have faced severe debt problems and falling credit to the private sector. This column interprets these events with a theory that has three main ingredients. First governments can favour domestic creditors. Second, public debt trades in secondary markets so debt holdings shift from foreign to domestic residents. Third, due to private financial frictions, this shift crowds out private investment and growth.
Matthijs Lof, Tuomas Malinen, 25 May 2014
Public debt and economic growth are historically negatively correlated. This column discusses new evidence that rejects the debt-to-growth causality. After estimating the effects between debt and growth in both directions, there is no evidence that high indebtedness suppresses economic growth. The effect of growth on debt is the main driver of the negative correlation.
Nicholas Crafts, 21 January 2014
Nicholas Crafts talks to Viv Davies about his recent work on the threatening issue of public debt in the Eurozone. Crafts maintains that the implicit fault line in the EZ is evident; several EZ economies face a long period of fiscal consolidation and low growth and that a different sort of central bank might be preferable. They also discuss the challenges and constraints of banking, fiscal and federal union. The interview was recorded in London on 17 January 2014.
Nicholas Crafts, 13 December 2013
This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.
Richard Wood, 31 August 2012
Quantitative easing and austerity have done little to stop the EZ's periphery economies sliding towards depression. Policy Insight No. 62 argues that new money creation can finance deficits without increasing public debt.
Peter Stella, Manmohan Singh, 14 May 2012
Much of the debate over public finances in the US relates to the amount of debt, this column explores the type of debt. It criticises the recent suggestion that the US Treasury should start issuing floating rate notes.
Pontus Rendahl, 26 April 2012
Many developed economies are in a liquidity trap with interest rates at or near zero. Many also have high unemployment that looks set to persist. This column argues that it is times like these when governments should be spending more, not less – they just have to be careful how they do it.
S. M. Ali Abbas, Nazim Belhocine, Asmaa El-Ganainy, Mark Horton, 18 December 2011
As policymakers continue to grapple with high debts and the troubles that come with them, this column looks at the lessons from data on public debt in 178 countries stretching back as far as 1880. It argues that when faced with an unsustainable debt burden, slow but steady adjustment is the way to go.