History Remembered: Optimal Sovereign Default on Domestic and External Debt
59 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2018
Date Written: September 2018
Infrequent but turbulent overt sovereign defaults on domestic creditors are a “forgotten history” in Macroeconomics. We propose a heterogeneous-agents model in which the government chooses optimal debt and default on domestic and foreign creditors by balancing distributional incentives v. the social value of debt for self-insurance, liquidity, and risk-sharing. A rich feedback mechanism links debt issuance, the distribution of debt holdings, the default decision, and risk premia. Calibrated to Eurozone data, the model is consistent with key long-run and debt-crisis statistics. Defaults are rare (1.2 percent frequency), and preceded by surging debt and spreads. Debt sells at the risk-free price most of the time, but the government's lack of commitment reduces sustainable debt sharply.
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