NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Deficit Gamble

Laurence Ball, Douglas W. Elmendorf, N. Gregory Mankiw

NBER Working Paper No. 5015
Issued in February 1995
NBER Program(s):   EFG

The historical behavior of interest rates and growth rates in U.S. data suggests that the government can, with a high probability, run temporary budget deficits and then roll over the resulting government debt forever. The purpose of this paper is to document this finding and to examine its implications. Using a standard overlapping-generations model of capital accumulation, we show that whenever a perpetual rollover of debt succeeds, policy can make every generation better off. This conclusion does not imply that deficits are good policy, for an attempt to roll over debt forever might fail. But the adverse effects of deficits, rather than being inevitable, occur with only a small probability.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5015

Published: Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Vol. 30 (November 1998): 699-720.

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