This paper surveys the literature on the macroeconomic effects of government debt. It begins by discussing the data on debt and deficits, including the historical time series, measurement issues, and projections of future fiscal policy. The paper then presents the conventional theory of government debt, which emphasizes aggregate demand in the short run and crowding out in the long run. It next examines the theoretical and empirical debate over the theory of debt neutrality called Ricardian equivalence. Finally, the paper considers the various normative perspectives about how the government should use its ability to borrow.
Average incomes in the world's richest countries are more than ten times as high as in the world's poorest countries. It is apparent to anyone who travels the world that these large differences in income lead to large differences in the quality of life. Less apparent are the reasons for these differences. What is it about the United States, Japan, and Germany that makes these countries so much richer than India, Indonesia, and Nigeria? How can the rich countries be sure to maintain their high standard of living? What can the poor countries do to join the club?
After many years of neglect, these questions are again at the center of macroeconomic research and teaching. Long-run growth is now widely viewed to be at least as important as short-run fluctuations. Moreover, growth is not just important. It is also a topic about which macroeconomists, with their crude aggregate models, have something useful to say.
My goal here is to assess what we now know about economic growth. The scope of this paper is selective and, to some extent, idiosyncratic. The study of growth has itself grown so rapidly in recent years that it would take an entire book to discuss the field thoroughly.' In this paper, I do not try to lay out the many different views in the large literature on economic growth. Instead, I try to present my own views, as cogently as I can, on what we know about the growth of nations.
This paper proposes a theory of supply shocks, or shifts in the short-run Phillips curve, based on relative-price changes and frictions in nominal price adjustment. When price adjustment is costly, firms adjust to large shocks but not to small shocks, and so large shocks have disproportionate effects on the price level. Therefore, aggregate inflation depends on the distribution of relative-price changes: inflation rises when the distribution is skewed to the right, and falls when the distribution is skewed to the left. We show that this theoretical result explains a large fraction of movements in postwar U. S. inflation. Moreover, our model suggests measures of supply shocks that perform better than traditional measures, such as the relative prices of food and energy.
This paper considers a possible explanation for asymmetric adjustment of nominal prices. We present a menu-cost model in which positive trend inflation causes firms' relative prices to decline automatically between price adjustments. In this environment, shocks that raise firms' desired prices trigger larger price responses than shocks that lower desired prices. We use this model of asymmetric adjustment to address three issues in macroeconomics: the effects of aggregate demand, the effects of sectoral shocks, and the optimal rate of inflation.
This paper examines whether the Solow growth model is consistent with the international variation in the standard of living. It shows that an augmented Solow model that includes accumulation of human as well as physical capital provides an excellent description of the cross-country data. The paper also examines the implications of the Solow model for convergence in standards of living, that is, for whether poor countries tend to grow faster than rich countries. The evidence indicates that, holding population growth and capital accumulation constant, countries converge at about the rate the augmented Solow model predicts.
In previous work we have argued that aggregate, post-war, United States data on consumption and income are well described by a model in which a fraction of income accrues to individuals who consume their current income rather than their permanent income. This fraction is estimated to be about 50”/., indicating a substantial departure from the permanent income hypothesis. In this paper we ask whether the same model fits quarterly data from the United Kingdom over the period 1957-1988 and from Canada, France, Japan, and Sweden over the period 1972-1988. We also explore several generalizations of the basic model.
Only one-fourth of U.S. families own stock. This paper examines whether the consumption of stockholders differs from the consumption of nonstockholders and. if so. whether these differences help explain the empirical failures of the consumption-based CAPM. Household panel data are used to construct time series on the consumption of each group. The results indicate that the consumption of stockholders is more volatile and more highly correlated with the excess return on the stock market. These differences help explain the size of the equity premium, although they do not fully resolve the equity premium puzzle.
This paper, though new, draws heavily on my previous paper, "Recent Developments in Macroeconomics: A Very Quick Refresher Course," Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, August 1988, Part 2. I am grateful to Moses Abramovitz, David Laidler, and Thomas Mayer for comments, and to the National Science Foundation for financial support.
This article reexamines the consistency of the permanent-income hypothesis with aggregate postwar U.S. data. The permanent-income hypothesis is nested within a more general model in which a fraction of income accrues to individuals who consume their current income rather than their permanent income. This fraction is estimated to be about 50%, indicating a substantial departure from the permanent-income hypothesis. Our results cannot be easily explained by time aggregation or small-sample bias, by changes in the real interest rate, or by nonseparabilities in the utility function of consumers.
This paper analyzes the effects of government debt and income taxes on consumption and saving in a world of infinitely lived households having uncertain and heterogeneous incomes. The special structure of the model allows exact aggregation across households despite incomplete markets. The effects of government debt are shown to be substantial, roughly comparable to those resulting from finite horizons, and crucially dependent on the length of time until the debt is repaid. Also, anticipated changes in taxes are shown to cause anticipated changes in consumption. Finally, an index of fiscal stance is derived.
This paper examines the impact of major demographic changes on the housing market in the United States. The entry of the Baby Boom generation into its house-buying years is found to be the major cause of the increase in real housing prices in the 1970s. Since the Baby Bust generation is now entering its house-buying years, housing demand will grow more slowly in the 1990s than in any time in the past forty years. If the historical relation between housing demand and housing prices continues into the future, real housing prices will fall substantially over the next two decades.
The issue of dynamic efficiency is central to analyses of capital accumulation and economic growth. Yet the question of what characteristics should be examined to determine whether actual economies are dynamically efficient is unresolved. This paper develops a criterion for determining whether an economy is dynamically efficient. The criterion, which holds for economies in which technological progress and population growth are stochastic, involves a comparison of the cash flows generated by capital with the level of investment. Its application to the United States economy and the economies of other major OECD nations suggests that they are dynamically efficient.