The Liquidation of Government Debt

66 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2011 Last revised: 4 Apr 2011

See all articles by Carmen M. Reinhart

Carmen M. Reinhart

Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

M. Belen Sbrancia

University of Maryland

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2011

Abstract

Historically, periods of high indebtedness have been associated with a rising incidence of default or restructuring of public and private debts. A subtle type of debt restructuring takes the form of "financial repression." Financial repression includes directed lending to government by captive domestic audiences (such as pension funds), explicit or implicit caps on interest rates, regulation of cross-border capital movements, and (generally) a tighter connection between government and banks. In the heavily regulated financial markets of the Bretton Woods system, several restrictions facilitated a sharp and rapid reduction in public debt/GDP ratios from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Low nominal interest rates help reduce debt servicing costs while a high incidence of negative real interest rates liquidates or erodes the real value of government debt. Thus, financial repression is most successful in liquidating debts when accompanied by a steady dose of inflation. Inflation need not take market participants entirely by surprise and, in effect, it need not be very high (by historic standards). For the advanced economies in our sample, real interest rates were negative roughly 1⁄2 of the time during 1945-1980. For the United States and the United Kingdom our estimates of the annual liquidation of debt via negative real interest rates amounted on average from 3 to 4 percent of GDP a year. For Australia and Italy, which recorded higher inflation rates, the liquidation effect was larger (around 5 percent per annum). We describe some of the regulatory measures and policy actions that characterized the heyday of the financial repression era.

Suggested Citation

Reinhart, Carmen M. and Sbrancia, M. Belen, The Liquidation of Government Debt (March 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w16893. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1789474

Carmen M. Reinhart (Contact Author)

Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics ( email )

1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

M. Belen Sbrancia

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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