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A History of U.S. Debt Limits

George J. Hall, Thomas J. Sargent

NBER Working Paper No. 21799
Issued in December 2015
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Monetary Economics, Political Economy

Congress first imposed an aggregate debt limit in 1939 when it delegated decisions about designing US debt instruments to the Treasury. Before World War I, Congress designed each bond and specified a maximum amount of each bond that the Treasury could issue. It usually specified purposes for which proceeds could be spent. We construct and interpret a Federal debt limit before 1939.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21799

Published: Brief history of US debt limits before 1939 George J. Hall, Thomas J. Sargent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2018, 115 (12) 2942-2945; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1719687115

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