Publications on Debt sustainability
Public Policy Brief No. 151, 2020 | June 2020
Recent Experience and Future Prospects in the Post-COVID-19 EraThis policy brief provides a discussion of the relationships between austerity, Greece’s macroeconomic performance, debt sustainability, and the provision of healthcare and other social services over the last decade. It explains that austerity was imposed in the name of debt sustainability. However, there was a vicious cycle of recession and austerity: each round of austerity measures led to a deeper recession, which increased the debt-to-GDP ratio and therefore undermined the goal of debt sustainability, leading to another round of austerity. One of the effects of these austerity policies was the significant reduction in healthcare expenditure, which made Greece more vulnerable to the recent pandemic. Finally, it shows how recent pre-COVID debt sustainability analyses projected that Greek public debt would become unsustainable even under minor deviations from an optimistic baseline. The pandemic shock will thus lead to an explosion of public debt. This brings the need for a restructuring of the Greek public debt to the fore once again, as well as other policies that will address the eurozone’s structural imbalances.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 56 | June 2018The European Commission's proposal for the regulation of sovereign bond-backed securities (SBBSs) follows the release of a high-level taskforce report, sponsored by the European Systemic Risk Board, on the feasibility of an SBBS framework. The proposal and the SBBS scheme, Mario Tonveronachi argues, would fail to yield the intended results while undermining financial stability.
Tonveronachi articulates his alternative, centered on the European Central Bank's issuance of debt certificates along the maturity spectrum to create a common yield curve and corresponding absorption of a share of each eurozone country’s national debts. Alongside these financial operations, new reflationary but debt-reducing fiscal rules would be imposed.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Public Policy Brief No. 145, 2018 | June 2018
An Assessment and an Alternative ProposalIn response to a proposal put forward by the European Commission for the regulation of sovereign bond-backed securities (SBBSs), Mario Tonveronachi provides his analysis of the SBBS scheme and attendant regulatory proposal, and elaborates on an alternative approach to addressing the problems that have motivated this high-level consideration of an SBBS framework.
As this policy brief explains, it is doubtful the SBBS proposal would produce its intended results. Tonveronachi’s alternative, discussed in Levy Institute Public Policy Briefs Nos. 137 and 140, not only better addresses the two problems targeted by the SBBS scheme, but also a third, critical defect of the current euro system: national sovereign debt sustainability.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
One-Pager No. 51 | December 2015Until market participants across the euro area face a single risk-free yield curve rather than a diverse collection of quasi-risk-free sovereign rates, financial market integration will not be complete. Unfortunately, the institution that would normally provide the requisite benchmark asset—a federal treasury issuing risk-free debt—does not exist in the euro area, and there are daunting political obstacles to creating such an institution.
There is, however, another way forward. The financial instrument that could provide the foundation for a single market already exists on the balance sheet of the European Central Bank (ECB): legally, the ECB could issue “debt certificates” (DCs) across the maturity spectrum and in sufficient amounts to create a yield curve. Moreover, reforming ECB operations along these lines may hold the key to addressing another of the euro area’s critical dysfunctions. Under current conditions, the Maastricht Treaty’s fiscal rules create a vicious cycle by contributing to a deflationary economic environment, which slows the process of debt adjustment, requiring further deflationary budget tightening. By changing national debt dynamics and thereby enabling a revision of the fiscal rules, the DC proposal could short-circuit this cycle of futility.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Public Policy Brief No. 140, 2015 | November 2015
Mario Tonveronachi, University of Siena, builds on his earlier proposal (The ECB and the Single European Financial Market) to advance financial market integration in Europe through the creation of a single benchmark yield curve based on debt certificates (DCs) issued by the European Central Bank (ECB). In this policy brief, Tonveronachi discusses potential changes to the ECB’s operations and their implications for member-state fiscal rules. He argues that his DC proposal would maintain debt discipline while mitigating the restrictive, counterproductive fiscal stance required today, simultaneously expanding national fiscal space while ensuring debt sustainability under the Maastricht limits, and offering a path out of the self-defeating policy regime currently in place.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Working Paper No. 843 | July 2015
This paper has two main objectives. The first is to propose a policy architecture that can prevent a very high public debt from resulting in a high tax burden, a government default, or inflation. The second objective is to show that government deficits do not face a financing problem. After these deficits are initially financed through the net creation of base money, the private sector necessarily realizes savings, in the form of either government bond purchases or, if a default is feared, “acquisitions” of new money.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Pedro Leao
Policy Note 2012/12 | December 2012On November 27, 2012, the Eurogroup reached a new “Greek deal” that once more discloses that there is no political will to address Greece’s debt crisis—or the country’s economic and social catastrophe.
One-Pager No. 17 | November 2011
More Austerity, a Deeper Slump, and the Surrender of National Sovereignty
It is a well-recognized fact that the Greek economy has been going from bad to worse since the first bailout in May 2010, and a leaked document relating to the bailout talks ahead of last week’s EU summit openly admitted that the policy of expansionary fiscal consolidation had been a blatant failure. So why did it take the EU leadership almost two years to recognize the need for a significant haircut on Greek debt?Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Policy Note 2011/3 | May 2011
This “Modest Proposal” by authors Varoufakis and Holland outlines a three-pronged, comprehensive solution to the eurozone crisis that simultaneously addresses the three main dimensions of the current crisis in the eurozone (sovereign debt, banking, and underinvestment), restructures both a share of sovereign debt and that of banks, and does not involve a fiscal transfer of taxpayers’ money. Additionally, it requires no moves toward federation, no fiscal union, and no transfer union. It is in this sense, say the authors, that it deserves the epithet modest.
To stabilize the debt crisis, Varoufakis and Holland recommend a tranche transfer of the sovereign debt of each EU member-state to the European Central Bank (ECB), to be held as ECB bonds. Member-states would continue to service their share of debt, reducing the debt-servicing burden of the most exposed member-states without increasing the debt burden of the others. Rigorous stress testing and recapitalization through the European Financial Stability Facility (in exchange for equity) would cleanse the banks of questionable public and private paper assets, allowing them to turn future liquidity into loans to enterprises and households. And the European Investment Bank (EIB) would assume the role of effecting a “New Deal” for Europe, drawing upon a mix of its own bonds and the new eurobonds. In effect, the EIB would graduate into a European surplus-recycling mechanism—a mechanism without which no currency union can survive for long.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Yanis Varoufakis Stuart Holland
Policy Note 2011/2 | May 2011
By general agreement, the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path.” Try typing the phrase into Google News: 19 of the first 20 hits refer to the federal debt. But what does this actually mean? One suspects that some who use the phrase are guided by vague fears, or even that they don’t quite know what to be afraid of. Some people fear that there may come a moment when the government’s bond markets would close, forcing a default or “bankruptcy.” But the government controls the legal-tender currency in which its bonds are issued and can always pay its bills with cash. A more plausible worry is inflation—notably, the threat of rising energy prices in an oil-short world—alongside depreciation of the dollar, either of which would reduce the real return on government bonds. But neither oil-price inflation nor dollar devaluation constitutes default, and neither would be intrinsically “unsustainable.”
After a brief discussion of the major worries, Senior Scholar James Galbraith focuses on one, and only one, critical issue: the actual behavior of the public-debt-to-GDP ratio under differing economic assumptions through time. His conclusion? The CBO’s assumption that the United States must offer a real interest rate on the public debt higher than the real growth rate by itself creates an unsustainability that is not otherwise there. Changing that one assumption completely alters the long-term dynamic of the public debt. By the terms of the CBO’s own model, a low interest rate erases the notion that the US debt-to-GDP ratio is on an “unsustainable path.” The prudent policy conclusion? Keep the projected interest rate down. Otherwise, stay cool: don’t change the expected primary deficit abruptly, and allow the economy to recover through time.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):