Discussion Paper Details

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Title: Public Debt Through the Ages

Author(s): Barry Eichengreen, Asmaa El-Ganainy, Rui Esteves and Kris James Mitchener

Publication Date: January 2019

Keyword(s): Debt History, Sovereign debt, Sovereign Debt Composition and Sovereign debt crises

Programme Area(s): Economic History and International Macroeconomics and Finance

Abstract: We consider public debt from a long-term historical perspective, showing how the purposes for which governments borrow have evolved. Periods when debt-to-GDP ratios rose explosively as a result of wars, depressions and financial crises also have a long history. Many of these episodes resulted in debt-management problems resolved through debasements and restructurings. Less widely appreciated are successful debt consolidation episodes, instances in which governments inheriting heavy debts ran primary surpluses for long periods in order to reduce those burdens to sustainable levels. We analyze the economic and political circumstances that made these successful debt consolidation episodes possible.

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Bibliographic Reference

Eichengreen, B, El-Ganainy, A, Esteves, R and Mitchener, K. 2019. 'Public Debt Through the Ages'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.