Category Archives: Research

“Die Vollgeld-Initiative und eine Alternative (The Swiss Sovereign Money Initiative, and an Alternative),” SNB, 2017

In: Thomas Moser, Carlos Lenz, Marcel Savioz and Dirk Niepelt, editorial committee, Monetary Economic Issues Today, Festschrift in Honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Swiss National Bank/Orell Füssli, Zürich, June 2017. PDF of draft.

The sovereign money initiative (Vollgeldinitiative) seeks to gain greater control over the money and credit supply, to increase financial stability and to achieve a fairer distribution of seigniorage income. The initiative’s suggested approach – a ban on active money creation – is inefficient and may even prove ineffective, as it fails to address the core problems. A variant of the initiative, which would allow the public access to electronic central bank money on a voluntary basis, would offer greater benefit at lower cost.

“Sovereign Bond Prices, Haircuts, and Maturity,” IMF, 2017

IMF Working Paper 17/119, May 2017, with Tamon Asonuma and Romain Ranciere. PDF.

Rejecting a common assumption in the sovereign debt literature, we document that creditor losses (“haircuts”) during sovereign restructuring episodes are asymmetric across debt instruments. We code a comprehensive dataset on instrument-specific haircuts for 28 debt restructurings with private creditors in 1999–2015 and find that haircuts on shorter-term debt are larger than those on debt of longer maturity. In a standard asset pricing model, we show that increasing short-run default risk in the run-up to a restructuring episode can explain the stylized fact. The data confirms the predicted relation between perceived default risk, bond prices, and haircuts by maturity.

Citigroup Advises Against the `Fiscal Theory of the Price Level’

In a recent Citigroup Global Economics View Research report, Willem Buiter discusses “Bad and Good ‘Fiscal Theories of the Price Level’.” Quoting my own work on the Fiscal Theory, Buiter warns that policy makers start to pay attention to the theory:

It does not often happen that a rather obscure technical bit of economic theory
merits an audience wider than the small band of academics who spend their waking
hours pondering such matters because that is the kind of thing they do. This note
addresses one of those occasions. The obscure economic theory in question is the
so-called fiscal theory of the price level (FTPL) …

The destruction of the logic of the FTPL by Buiter and Niepelt ought to have been
the end of the FTPL – their arguments were never refuted. … Recently, some of the originators of the original FTPL have tried to resurrect it …



Conference in Honor of Bob King at the Study Center Gerzensee

Jointly with the Journal of Monetary Economics and the Swiss National Bank, the Study Center Gerzensee organized a conference in honor of Bob King, long-term supporter of the Study Center.

Program: PDF.

Jaume Ventura’s discussion of a paper on trade and growth by Alvarez and Lucas: PDF.

My discussion of a paper on debt and debt constraints by Bhandari, Evans, Golosov, and Sargent: PDF.

“Fiscal Federalism, Taxation and Grants,” CEPR, 2016

CEPR Discussion Paper 11482, August 2016, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF. Also published as CESifo Working Paper 6062, Study Center Gerzensee Working Paper 16-05. PDFPDF.

We propose a theory of tax centralization and inter governmental grants in politico-economic equilibrium. The cost of taxation differs across levels of government because voters internalize general equilibrium effects at the central but not at the local level. This renders the degree of tax centralization and the tax burden determinate even if none of the traditional, expenditure-related motives for centralization considered in the fiscal federalism literature is present. If central and local spending are complements and the trade-off between the cost of taxation and the benefit of spending is perceived differently across levels of government, inter governmental grants become relevant. Calibrated to U.S. data, our model helps to explain the introduction of federal grants at the time of the New Deal, and their increase up to the turn of the twenty-first century. Grants are predicted to increase to approximately 5.5% of GDP by 2060.

“Sovereign Debt with Heterogeneous Creditors,” JIE, 2016

Journal of International Economics 99(S1), March 2016, with Harris Dellas. PDF.

We develop a sovereign debt model with heterogeneous creditors (private and official) where the probability of default depends on both the level and the composition of debt. Higher exposure to official lenders improves incentives to repay due to more severe sanctions but it is also costly because it lowers the value of the sovereign’s default option. The model can account for the co-existence of private and official lending, the time variation in their shares in total debt as well as the low rates charged on both. It also produces intertwined default and debt-composition choices.

“Politico-Economic Equivalence,” RED, 2015

Review of Economic Dynamics 18(4), October 2015, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

Traditional “economic equivalence” results, like the Ricardian equivalence proposition, define equivalence classes over exogenous policies. We derive “politico-economic equivalence” conditions that apply in environments where policy is endogenous and chosen sequentially. A policy regime and a state are equivalent to another such pair if both pairs give rise to the same allocation in politico-economic equilibrium. The equivalence conditions help to identify factors that render institutional change non-neutral and to construct politico-economic equilibria in new policy regimes. We exemplify their use in the context of several applications, relating to social security reform, tax-smoothing policies and measures to correct externalities.

“Austerity,” CEPR, 2014

CEPR Discussion Paper 10315, December 2014, with Harris Dellas. PDF. Also published as CESifo Working Paper 5146, Study Center Gerzensee Working Paper 14-07. PDF, PDF.

We shed light on the function, properties and optimal size of austerity using the standard sovereign debt model augmented to include incomplete information about credit risk. Austerity is defined as the shortfall of consumption from the level desired by a country and supported by its repayment capacity. We find that austerity serves as a tool for securing a more favorable loan package; that it is associated with over‐investment even when investment does not create collateral; and that low risk borrowers may favour more to less severe austerity. These findings imply that the amount of fresh funds obtained by a sovereign is not a reliable measure of austerity suffered; and that austerity may actually be associated with higher growth. Our analysis accommodates costly signalling for gaining credibility and also assigns a novel role to spending multipliers in the determination of optimal austerity.

“Debt Maturity Without Commitment,” JME, 2014

Journal of Monetary Economics 68(S), December 2014. PDF.

How does sovereign risk shape the maturity structure of public debt? We consider a government that balances benefits of default, due to tax savings, and costs, due to output losses. Debt issuance affects subsequent default and rollover decisions and thus, current debt prices. This induces welfare costs beyond the consumption smoothing benefits from the marginal unit of debt. The equilibrium maturity structure minimises these welfare costs. It is interior with positive gross positions and shortens during times of crisis and low output, consistent with empirical evidence.

“Credibility For Sale,” CEPR, 2013

CEPR Discussion Paper 9562, July 2013, with Harris Dellas. PDF.

We develop a sovereign debt model with official and private creditors where default risk depends on both the level and the composition of liabilities. Higher exposure to official lenders improves incentives to repay but carries extra costs, such as reduced ex-post flexibility. The model implies that official lending to sovereigns takes place in times of debt distress; carries a favorable rate; and can displace private funding even under pari passu provisions. Moreover, in the presence of long-term debt overhang, the availability of official funds increases the probability of default on existing debt, although default does not trigger exclusion from private credit markets. These findings help shed light on joint default and debt composition choices of the type observed during the recent sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

“The Swiss Debt Brake—Ten Years On,” SJES, 2013

Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics 149(2), June 2013, with Christoph Schaltegger. PDF.

In response to the rapid growth of public indebtedness during the 1990s, Switzerland enacted a constitutional budget restriction in 2003: the Swiss Debt Brake. Aimed at balancing the federal budget over the cycle the fiscal rule appears to have left its mark. At the debt brake’s tenth anniversary, Switzerland’s fiscal position has improved considerably. Several other countries have also implemented fiscal rules, but with mixed success. What lessons are there to be learned from these experiences?

“Economic and Politico-Economic Equivalence,” CEPR, 2012

CEPR Discussion Paper 9203, November 2012, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We extend “economic equivalence” results, like the Ricardian equivalence proposition, to the political sphere where policy is chosen sequentially. We derive conditions under which a policy regime (summarizing admissible policy choices in every period) and a state are “politico-economically equivalent” to another such pair, in the sense that both pairs give rise to the same equilibrium allocation. The equivalence conditions help to identify factors that render institutional change non-neutral. We exemplify their use in the context of several applications, relating to social security reform, tax-smoothing policies and measures to correct externalities.

“Ageing, Government Budgets, Retirement and Growth,” EER, 2012

European Economic Review 56(1), January 2012, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We analyze the short and long run effects of demographic ageing—increased longevity and reduced fertility—on per-capita growth. The OLG model captures direct effects, working through adjustments in the savings rate, labor supply, and capital deepening, and indirect effects, working through changes of taxes, government spending components and the retirement age in politico-economic equilibrium. Growth is driven by capital accumulation and productivity increases fueled by public investment. The closed-form solutions of the model predict taxation and the retirement age in OECD economies to increase in response to demographic ageing and per-capita growth to accelerate. If the retirement age were held constant, the growth rate in politico-economic equilibrium would essentially remain unchanged, due to a surge of social security transfers and crowding out of public investment.

(Unfortunately, the acknowledgements got lost in the publishing process.) For comments, we thank Casper van Ewijk, Enrique Kawamura, George McCandless, Alex Monge, Vincenzo Quadrini, Jaume Ventura, Fabrizio Zilibotti as well as conference and seminar participants at Banco Central de la Republica Argentina, CREI (Universidad Pompeu Fabra), EEA annual meeting, EPRU (University of Copenhagen), ESSIM, IIES (Stockholm University), Netspar, Penn State, SED annual meeting, Study Center Gerzensee, and Universidad de San Andres. Andreas Walchli provided valuable research assistance.

“Debt-Maturity without Commitment,” CEPR, 2008

CEPR Discussion Paper 7093, December 2008. PDF.

We analyze how sovereign risk paired with social costs of default shapes the maturity structure of public debt. A government without commitment power balances benefits of default, due to tax savings, and costs, due to output losses. Debt issuance affects subsequent default and rollover decisions and thus, current debt prices. This induces welfare costs beyond the consumption smoothing benefits from the marginal unit of debt. The equilibrium choice of short- versus long-term debt issuance minimizes these welfare costs. Consistent with empirical evidence, closed-form solutions of the model predict an interior maturity structure with positive gross positions and a shortening of the maturity structure during times of crisis and low output. In simulations, the model replicates additional features of the data.

“The Future of Social Security,” JME, 2008

Journal of Monetary Economics 55(2), March 2008, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We analyze the effect of the projected demographic transition on the political support for social security, and equilibrium outcomes. Embedding a probabilistic-voting setup of electoral competition in the standard OLG model with capital accumulation, we find that intergenerational transfers arise in the absence of altruism, commitment, or trigger strategies. Closed-form solutions predict population ageing to lead to higher social security tax rates, a rising share of pensions in GDP, but eventually lower social security benefits per retiree. The response of equilibrium tax rates to demographic shocks reduces old-age consumption risk. Calibrated to match features of the U.S. economy, the model suggests that, in response to the projected demographic transition, social security tax rates will gradually increase to 16%. Other policies that distort labor supply will become less important; labor supply therefore will rise, in contrast with frequently voiced fears.

“Starving the Beast? Intra-Generational Conflict and Balanced Budget Rules,” EER, 2007

European Economic Review 51(1), January 2007. PDF.

A balanced budget requirement does not only prevent fiscal policy makers from smoothing tax distortions but also affects their preferred choice of government spending. The paper analyzes the conditions under which groups opposed to government spending might want to implement a balanced budget requirement in order to induce the government to spend less. It shows that relaxing a balanced budget requirement need not be associated with higher government spending.

“The Stability Pact—Rationales, Problems, Alternatives,” Kyklos, 2006

Kyklos 59(4), November 2006, with Assar Lindbeck. PDF.

… the paper makes two contributions, one analytical and one substantive. On the analytical side, we apply economic theory to identify rationales for the SGP and to develop adequate policy responses in light of these rationales. … On the substantive side, we highlight the “legalistic” perspective adopted in the SGP. …

“Timing Tax Evasion,” JPubE, 2005

Journal of Public Economics 89(9-10), September 2005. PDF.

Standard models of tax evasion implicitly assume that evasion is either fully detected, or not detected at all. Empirically, this is not the case, casting into doubt the traditional rationales for interior evasion choices. I propose two alternative, dynamic explanations for interior tax evasion rates: First, fines increasing in the duration of an evasion spell, implying that the expected costs of evasion increase convexly with the time spent non-reporting, while the benefits increase linearly. Second, different vintages of income sources subject to aggregate risk and fixed costs when switched between evasion states. The dynamic approach yields a transparent representation of revenue losses and social costs due to tax evasion, novel findings on the effect of policy on tax evasion, and a tractable framework for the analysis of tax evasion dynamics.

“The Fiscal Myth of the Price Level,” QJE, 2004

Quarterly Journal of Economics 119(1), February 2004. PDF.

I examine the “fiscal theory of the price level” according to which “non-Ricardian” policy and predetermined nominal government debt fiscally determine prices. I argue that the non-Ricardian policy assumption and, by implication, fiscal price level determination are inconsistent with an equilibrium in which all asset holdings reflect optimal household choices. In such an equilibrium, policy must be Ricardian even if, in some states of nature, the government defaults or commits to an arbitrary real primary surplus sequence. I propose an alternative to the fiscal theory of the price level, based on nominal flows instead of nominal stocks. While this alternative framework establishes a consistent link between fiscal policy and the price level, it does not introduce inflationary fiscal effects beyond those suggested by Sargent and Wallace.

“Tax Smoothing versus Tax Shifting,” RED, 2004

Review of Economic Dynamics 7, January 2004. PDF.

Household-specific growth rates of the tax base imply that the timing of tax collections determines the distribution of tax burdens and wealth across households. Changes in fiscal policy do not only shift tax burdens across generations, but also within cohorts. Institutional deficit constraints settle tax shifting conflicts in favor of individuals with high income growth. With distortionary taxes, policy makers trade off the relative wealth effects of fiscal policy and the efficiency cost of household specific deadweight burdens. I apply the incidence analysis of fiscal policy to answer the question how the German unification should have optimally been financed.