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Keywords:

  • National debt;
  • deficit;
  • fiscal policy

Abstract

Using a recursive empirical model of the real interest rate, GDP growth and the primary government deficit in the United States, I solve for the ergodic distribution of the debt/GDP ratio. If such a distribution exists, the government is satisfying its intertemporal budget constraint. One key finding is that historical fiscal policy would bring the current high-debt ratio back to its normal level of 0.35 over the coming decade. Forecasts of continuing increases in the ratio over the decade make the implicit assumption that fiscal policy has shifted dramatically. In the variant of the model that matches the forecast, the government would not satisfy its intertemporal budget constraint if the policy was permanent. The willingness of investors to hold US government debt implies a belief that the high-deficit policy is transitory.