NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Fiscal Rules and Sovereign Default

Laura Alfaro, Fabio Kanczuk

NBER Working Paper No. 23370
Issued in April 2017, Revised in June 2017
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Finance and Macroeconomics, Public Economics

Recurrent concerns over debt sustainability in emerging and developed nations have prompted renewed debate on the role of fiscal rules. Their optimality, however, remains unclear. We provide a quantitative analysis of fiscal rules in a standard model of sovereign debt accumulation and default modified to incorporate quasi-hyperbolic preferences. For reasons of political economy or aggregation of citizens' preferences, government preferences are present biased, resulting in over-accumulation of debt. Calibrating this parameter with values in the literature, the model can reproduce debt levels and frequency of default typical of emerging markets even if the household impatience parameter is calibrated to local interest rates. A quantitative exercise finds welfare gains of the optimal fiscal policy to be economically substantial, and the optimal rule to not entail a countercyclical fiscal policy. A simple debt rule that limits the maximum amount of debt is analyzed and compared to a simple deficit rule that limits the maximum amount of deficit per period. Whereas the deficit rule does not perform well, the debt rule yields welfare gains virtually equal to the optimal rule.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23370

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