Does Debt Hurt Growth? Revisiting Reinhart and Rogoff

Is there a debt threshold that impairs medium term economic growth? The answer is no, according to a research paper by Andrea Pescatori, Damiano Sandri, and John Simon. They say that “Our analysis of historical data has highlighted that there is no simple threshold for debt ratios above which medium-term growth prospects are severely undermined. On the contrary, the association between debt and growth at high levels of debt becomes rather weak when one focuses on any but the shortest-term relationship, especially when controlling for the average growth performance of country peers. Furthermore, we find evidence that the relation between the level of debt and growth is importantly influenced by the trajectory of debt: countries with high but declining levels of debt have historically grown just as fast as their peers. The fact that there is no clear debt threshold that severely impairs medium term growth should not, however, be interpreted as a conclusion that debt does not matter. For example, we have found some evidence that higher debt appears to be associated with more volatile growth. And volatile growth can still be damaging to economic welfare.

As in previous empirical studies, our analysis is still subject to potential endogeneity concerns that should caution against drawing strong policy implications. However, by mitigating the short-term and mechanical reverse causality problems whereby low growth leads to higher debt, we show that the prima facie case for debt thresholds is substantially weakened. We find no evidence of threshold effects over any but the shortest-term horizons. Furthermore, the remaining relationship between debt and growth is relatively muted and the magnitude is much smaller than the dramatic figures suggested in earlier studies. Notwithstanding this, because of residual issues that confound the interpretation of the medium-term relationship between debt and growth, we emphasize that this does not establish what the underlying structural relationship is. That must wait for more sophisticated work that can properly address the complex identification issues that characterized this area of research.”

Posted by at 10:31 PM

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