A Comment on Sargent and Wallace: The problem of Debt Interest Seen in Historical Perspective

  • Tim Congdon

Abstract

Sargent and Wallace draw some paradoxical conclusions. Perhaps the most surprising is that a government which finances its budget deficit responsibly by bond sales may, in certain circumstances, be following a course of action which in the long run is more inflationary than immediate monetisation of its debt. Rather than investigate the special assumptions which lie behind this result, we shall discuss a general theme running through the paper and place it in an historical perspective. This theme is that, in the presence of large budget deficits, a money supply rule may become ineffective and unsustainable as a method of defeating inflation. The reason is that there is an upper limit to the size of real interest-bearing government debt per capita. If budget deficits are financed with bonds the size of the nominal debt may increase explosively because each extra bond issue adds to the government’s interest costs and, hence, to future budget deficits. Sooner or later, the only way the level of debt can be reduced in real terms is by inflation. To make the point more concisely, money supply control cannot succeed unless accompanied by fiscal discipline.

Keywords

Income 

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Notes and References

  1. A. C. Pigou, A Study in Public Finance (London: Macmillan, 1928) p. 286.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    D. Moggridge and E. Johnson, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes (London: Macmillan 1972) vol. 9 Essays in Persuasion, ‘An Open Letter to the French Minister (whoever he is or may be)’, pp. 76–82. The quotations are taken from pp. 76–9.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    B. U. Ratchford, ‘The burden of a domestic debt’, pp. 451–67, in Readings in Fiscal Policy American Economic Association series (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955), reprinted from American Economic Review 1942. The quotation is from p. 463 of Readings.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Brian Griffiths and Geoffrey E. Wood 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Congdon

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