It’s the NGDP, Not the Interest Rate

Lot’s of news articles on the eurocrisis focus on the sky-high interest rates now being paid by the Spanish and Italian governments, roughly 6%. But I rarely see people pointing out that until a few years ago 6% interest rates on government bonds were completely normal. As was the 70% ratio of public debt to GDP that you see in Spain. So why is this interest rate now such a crushing burden? Simple, in the old days 6% interest rates were accompanied by much more robust NGDP growth rates. The problem today in the periphery is that NGDP growth has collapsed.

If structural problems prevent a return to normal real growth rates, then the living standards in those countries must take a hit. If you continued the normal pre-2008 NGDP growth rates, then the burden would be shared by both debtors and creditors. If you have near zero-NGDP growth and keep paying 6% interest to creditors, then the entire burden falls on debtors. Indeed creditors would be receiving a much greater share of GDP than they anticipated—a windfall.

Of course that assumes no default—the holders of Greek debt obviously took a huge hit. I’m calling for a public policy of no default and faster NGDP growth. Avoid the Greek option, but also avoid the other extreme of never defaulting despite paying a huge interest penalty, accompanied by very low NGDP.

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About Scott Sumner 492 Articles

Affiliation: Bentley University

Scott Sumner has taught economics at Bentley University for the past 27 years.

He earned a BA in economics at Wisconsin and a PhD at University of Chicago.

Professor Sumner's current research topics include monetary policy targets and the Great Depression. His areas of interest are macroeconomics, monetary theory and policy, and history of economic thought.

Professor Sumner has published articles in the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, and the Bulletin of Economic Research.

Visit: TheMoneyIllusion

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