Ponzi Finance, Government Solvency and the Redundancy or Usefulness of Public Debt
We study how the government’s ability to borrow depends on its capacity to tax. Using a two-period OLG growth model, we establish the following. When lump-sum taxes are unrestricted, Ponzi ﬁnance is possible, regardless of whether the economy is dynamically ineﬀicient and regardless of the relationship between the interest rate and the growth rate. Ponzi ﬁnance, and government debt generally, is unessential or redundant: it does not enlarge the set of allocations that can be supported as competitive equilibria. When lump-sum taxes are restricted, Ponzi ﬁnance (public debt) may be essential . Central to the paper is our characterization of feasible government ﬁscal-ﬁnancial plans for an inﬁnite-lived government facing a sequence of ﬁnite-lived overlapping private generations. The central idea is that the government does not bankrupt private agents. We contrast our criterion with the conventional government solvency constraint. The conventional solvency constraint (the present value of future government debt is non-positive in the inﬁnitely distant future) is neither necessary nor suﬀicient for our feasibility criterion. When the government must use distortionary taxes and the long-run interest rate exceeds the long-run growth rate, our feasibility criterion implies the conventional solvency constraint.
Buiter, Willem H. and Kletzer, Kenneth M., "Ponzi Finance, Government Solvency and the Redundancy or Usefulness of Public Debt" (1994). Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers. 1313.