Ricardian Equivalence: an Evaluation of Theory and Evidence

100 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2004 Last revised: 1 Aug 2010

See all articles by B. Douglas Bernheim

B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 1987


In evaluating the existing theory and evidence on Ricardian equivalence, it is essential to distinguish between the short run effects of government borrowing (primarily the potential for stimulating aggregate demand) and the long run effects (primarily the potential for depressing capital accumulation). I argue that the theoretical case for long run neutrality is extremely weak, in that it depends upon improbable assumptions that are either directly or indirectly falsified through empirical observation. In contrast, the approximate validity of short run neutrality depends primarily upon assumptions that have at least an aura of plausibility. Nevertheless, even in this case behavioral evidence weighs heavily against the Ricardian view. Efforts to measure the economic effects of deficits directly through aggregate data confront a number of problems which, taken together, may well be insuperable. It is therefore not at all surprising that this evidence has, by itself, proven inconclusive. Overall, the existing body of theory and evidence establishes a significant likelihood that deficits have large effects on current consumption, and there is good reason to believe that this would drive up interest rates. In addition, I find a complete lack of either evidence or coherent theoretical argument to dispute the view that sustained deficits significantly depress capital accumulation in the long run.

Suggested Citation

Bernheim, B. Douglas, Ricardian Equivalence: an Evaluation of Theory and Evidence (July 1987). NBER Working Paper No. w2330. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=227282

B. Douglas Bernheim (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

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