We evaluate alternative public debt management policies in light of constraints imposed by the effective lower bound on interest rates. Replacing the current limit on gross debt issued by the fiscal authority with a limit on consolidated debt of the government can ensure that output always reaches its potential, but it may permit excess government spending when the economy is away from the effective lower bound. The welfare-maximizing policy sets the gross debt limit to the level implied by Samuelson (1954), while the central bank finances government spending with money when the economy is at the effective lower bound.
We document that the interest rate response to fiscal stimulus (IRRF) is lower in countries with high inequality or high household debt. To interpret this evidence we develop a model in which households take on debt to maintain a consumption threshold (saving constraint). Now debt-burdened, these households use additional income to deleverage. In economies with more debt-burdened households, increases in government spending tighten credit conditions less (relax credit conditions more), leading to smaller increases (larger declines) in the interest rate. Our theoretical framework predicts that the negative relationship between the IRRF and debt only holds when credit is not restricted. It also predicts that the consumption response to fiscal stimulus is falling in debt and inequality (only during periods of relaxed credit). We perform a series of empirical tests and find support for these predictions. In doing so, we provide context to recent evidence on the debt-dependent effects of government spending by highlighting that the relationship between debt and fiscal effects varies with credit conditions.
We document four features of consumption and income microdata: (1) household-level consumption is as volatile as household income on average, (2) household-level consumption has a positive but small correlation with income, (3) many low-wealth households have marginal propensities to consume near zero, and (4) lagged high expenditure is associated with low contemporaneous spending propensities. Our interpretation is that household expenditure depends on time-varying consumption thresholds where marginal utility discontinuously increases. Our model with consumption thresholds matches the four facts better than does a standard model. Poor households in our model also exhibit “excess sensitivity” to anticipated income declines.
In this paper, we empirically investigate whether expansionary fiscal stimulus is effective during a consumer-debt-overhang-induced recession. Using transaction-level data on Department of Defense (DOD) spending during the 2007–2009 recessionary period, we document that the open-economy relative fiscal multiplier is higher in geographies with higher pre-recession consumer indebtedness.
This study empirically investigates whether fiscal stimulus is effective during periods of high consumer indebtedness. Using detailed data on Department of Defense spending for the 2006-2009 period, we document that the open-economy relative fiscal multiplier is higher in geographies with higher consumer indebtedness.
We argue that fiscal stimulus funded by public debt is effective for increasing economic activity and employment even in recessions that are caused by overborrowing in the private sector. We analyze the impact of government spending on local economies between 2007 and 2009 and find evidence that the fiscal multiplier is higher in geographical areas characterized by higher individual household debt.