Wednesday, April 24, 2013

More on the Reinhart- Rogoff paper

Martin Wolf, writing in the FT, has an interesting take on the public debt- growth thesis. He contends that high public debt is often the consequence of an explosion in private debt, He cites RR's book in support:

Indeed, in their masterpiece, This Time is Different, professors Reinhart and Rogoff explained how soaring private debt can lead to financial crises that generate deep recessions, weak recoveries and rising public debt. This work is seminal. Its conclusion is clearly that rising public debt is the consequence of the low growth, itself explained by the crisis. This is not to rule out two-way causality. But the impulse goes from private financial excesses to crisis, slow growth and high public debt, not the other way round. Just ask the Irish or Spanish about their experience. 
Wolf makes the point that what caused public debt to rise, in the first place, is important. Following a financial bust, a rise in public  debt is inevitable and necessary because otherwise the economy will plunge into a recession.

Wolf also points to an interesting historical fact. The UK had debt to GDP ratio of 240% in 1816.  The "economic disaster" that followed was the industrial revolution! Thereafter growth accelerated and the ratio declined to below 90% by 1860s. The colossal debt that UK had run was not even for productive activities, it was to finance a war! So much for the correlation between public debt and growth.

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