Distributional Incentives in an Equilibrium Model of Domestic Sovereign Default
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.