Manufacturing Risk-Free Government Debt
65 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2020 Last revised: 4 Jun 2022
Date Written: September 2020
Governments face a trade-off between insuring bondholders and insuring taxpayers against output risk. If they insure bondholders by manufacturing risk-free zero-beta debt, then their capacity to insure taxpayers by lowering tax rates or raising government spending during recessions is limited. Using asset pricing tools, we develop a sufficient statistic for taxpayer insurance possibilities over different horizons, and characterize it analytically as a function of the debt/output, spending/output, and pricing kernel dynamics. With permanent shocks, taxpayers can only be insured over short horizons through counter-cyclical debt issuance. The horizon shrinks as the debt/output ratio reverts faster to its mean. The trade-off worsens if the output shocks are transitory instead of permanent. As the world’s safe asset supplier, the U.S. relies on strongly counter-cyclical debt issuance to provide more short-run insurance to its taxpayers.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation