Paper # Author Title
Infrequent but turbulent episodes of outright sovereign default on domestic creditors are considered a “forgotten history” in Macroeconomics. We propose a heterogeneous-agents model in which optimal debt and default on domestic and foreign creditors are driven by distributional incentives and endogenous default costs due to value of debt for self-insurance, liquidity and risk-sharing. The government’s aim to redistribute resources across agents and through time in response to uninsurable shocks produces a rich dynamic feedback mechanism linking debt issuance, the distribution of government bond holdings, the default decision, and risk premia. Calibrated to Spanish data, the model is consistent with key cyclical co-movements and features of debt-crisis dynamics. Debt exhibits protracted fluctuations. Defaults have a low frequency of 0.93 percent, are preceded by surging debt and spreads, and occur with relatively low external debt. Default risk limits the sustainable debt and yet spreads are zero most of the time. Download Paper
The question of what is a sustainable public debt is paramount in the macroeconomic analysis of fiscal policy. This question is usually formulated as asking whether the outstanding public debt and its projected path are consistent with those of the government's revenues and expenditures (i.e. whether fiscal solvency conditions hold). We identify critical flaws in the traditional approach to evaluate debt sustainability, and examine three alternative approaches that provide useful econometric and model-simulation tools to analyze debt sustainability. The first approach is Bohn's non-structural empirical framework based on a fiscal reaction function that characterizes the dynamics of sustainable debt and primary balances. The second is a structural approach based on a calibrated dynamic general equilibrium framework with a fully specified fiscal sector, which we use to quantify the positive and normative effects of fiscal policies aimed at restoring fiscal solvency in response to changes in debt. The third approach deviates from the others in assuming that governments cannot commit to repay their domestic debt, and can thus optimally decide to default even if debt is sustainable in terms of fiscal solvency. We use these three approaches to analyze debt sustainability in the United States and Europe after the recent surge in public debt following the 2008 crisis, and find that all three raise serious questions about the prospects of fiscal adjustment and its consequences in advanced economies. Download Paper
Europe’s debt crisis resembles historical episodes of outright default on domestic public debt about which little research exists. This paper proposes a theory of domestic sovereign default based on distributional incentives affecting the welfare of risk-averse debt and non debtholders. A utilitarian government cannot sustain debt if default is costless. If default is costly, debt with default risk is sustainable, and debt falls as the concentration of debt ownership rises. A government favoring bond holders can also sustain debt, with debt rising as ownership becomes more concentrated. These results are robust to adding foreign investors, redistributive taxes, or a second asset. Download Paper