"WHEN INTEREST RATES GO LOW, SHOULD PUBLIC DEBT GO HIGH ?" and "DEFICIT FOLLIES"
WHEN INTEREST RATES GO LOW, SHOULD PUBLIC DEBT GO HIGH ?
Is deficit finance, explicit or implicit, free when borrowing rates are routinely lower than growth rates? Specifically, can the government make all generations better off by perpetually taking from the young and giving to the old? We study this question in simple closed and open economies and show that achieving Pareto gains requires implausible calibrations. Even then, the gains reflect, depending on the economy's openness, improved intergenerational risk-sharing, improved international risk-sharing, and beggaring thy neighbor – not intergenerational redistribution per se. Low government borrowing rates, including borrowing rates running far below growth rates, justify improved risk-sharing between generations and countries. They provide no convincing basis for using deficit finance to redistribute from young and future generations or other countries.
Deficit finance is free when the growth rate routinely exceeds the government's borrowing rate. Or so many people say. This note presents three counterexamples. Each features a simple OLG economy with a zero growth rate and a negative government borrowing rate. None provides a basis for taking from the young and giving to the old. One example features idiosyncratic risk, one features policy uncertainty, and one features a safe borrowing rate that exceeds the safe lending rate. Progressive taxation cures the first problem. Policy resolution cures the second. And improved intermediation, perhaps organized by the government, cures the third. The three models are parables. Each conveys an inconvenient truth. Seemingly free deficits may, on careful inspection, be far more costly than they appear. Indeed, government intergenerational redistribution can lower the government borrowing rate, encouraging yet more inefficient deficit finance.