When is Debt Odious? A Theory of Repression and Growth Traps

72 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020

See all articles by Viral V. Acharya

Viral V. Acharya

New York University - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Raghuram G. Rajan

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; International Monetary Fund (IMF); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jack Shim

New York University, Department of Finance, Students

Multiple version iconThere are 4 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 2020

Abstract

How is a developing country affected by its odious government’s ability to borrow in international markets? We examine the dynamics of a country’s growth, consumption, and sovereign debt, assuming that the government is myopic and wants to maximize short-term, socially unproductive, spending. Interestingly, access to external borrowing can extend the government’s effective horizon; the government’s ability to borrow hinges on its convincing investors they will be repaid, which gives it a stake in the future. The lengthening of the government’s effective horizon can incentivize it to tax less, resulting in higher steady-state household consumption than if it could not borrow. However, in a developing country that saves little, the government may engage in more repressive policies to enhance its debt capacity, which only ensures that successor governments repress as well. This leads to a “growth trap” where household steady-state consumption is lower than if the government had no access to debt. We characterize circumstances in which odious government leads to odious debt and those in which it does not, and discuss policies that might ameliorate the welfare of the citizenry.

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Suggested Citation

Acharya, Viral V. and Rajan, Raghuram G. and Shim, Jack, When is Debt Odious? A Theory of Repression and Growth Traps (May 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27221. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3609673

Viral V. Acharya (Contact Author)

New York University - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~sternfin/vacharya/public_html/~vacharya.htm

New York University (NYU) - Department of Finance

Stern School of Business
44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012-1126
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

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Belgium

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Raghuram G. Rajan

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-4437 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
773-702-9299 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)

Jack Shim

New York University, Department of Finance, Students ( email )

New York, NY
United States

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