History Remembered: Optimal Sovereign Default on Domestic and External Debt
88 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2019
Date Written: 2019-07-22
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 versus 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.
Keywords: public debt, sovereign default, debt crisis, European crisis
JEL Classification: E44, E6, F34, H63
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