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Working papers from the Economics Department of the OECD that cover the full range of the Department’s work including the economic situation, policy analysis and projections; fiscal policy, public expenditure and taxation; and structural issues including ageing, growth and productivity, migration, environment, human capital, housing, trade and investment, labour markets, regulatory reform, competition, health, and other issues.
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Public Debt, Economic Growth and Nonlinear Effects
Myth or Reality?
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- Balázs Égert1
- Author Affiliations
- 1: OECD, France
- 17 oct 2012
- Bibliographic information
The economics profession seems to increasingly endorse the existence of a strongly negative nonlinear effect of public debt on economic growth. Reinhart and Rogoff (2010) were the first to point out that a public debt-to-GDP ratio higher than 90% of GDP is associated with considerably lower economic performance in advanced and emerging economies alike. A string of recent empirical papers broadly validates this threshold value. This paper seeks to contribute to this literature by putting a variant of the Reinhart-Rogoff dataset to a formal econometric testing. Using nonlinear threshold models, there is some evidence in favour of a negative nonlinear relationship between debt and growth. But these results are very sensitive to the time dimension and country coverage considered, data frequency (annual data vs. multi-year averages) and assumptions on the minimum number of observations required in each nonlinear regime. We show that when non-linearity is detected, the negative nonlinear effect kicks in at much lower levels of public debt (between 20% and 60% of GDP). These results, based on bivariate regressions on secular time series, are largely confirmed on a shorter dataset (1960-2010) when using a multivariate growth framework that accounts for traditional drivers of long-term economic growth and model uncertainty. Nonlinear effects might be more complex and difficult to model than previously thought. Instability might be a result of nonlinear effects changing over time, across countries and economic conditions. Further research is certainly needed to fully understand the link between public debt and growth.
- nonlinearity, threshold effects, economic growth, public debt
- Classification JEL:
- E6: Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics / Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
- F3: International Economics / International Finance
- F4: International Economics / Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
- N4: Economic History / Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation