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Stylised fact or situated messiness? The diverse effects of increasing debt on national economic growth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-472
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Economic Geography
Issue number2
Early online date12 Mar 2014
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Feb 2014
DateE-pub ahead of print - 12 Mar 2014
DatePublished (current) - Mar 2015


This paper reanalyses data used by Reinhart and Rogoff (2010c - RR), and later Herndon et al. (2013) to consider the relationship between growth and debt in developed countries. The consistency over countries and the causal direction of RR’s so called ‘stylised fact’ is considered. Using multilevel models, we find that when the effect of debt on growth is allowed to vary, and linear time trends are fully controlled for, the average effect of debt on growth disappears, whilst country-specific debt relations vary significantly. Additionally, countries with high debt levels debt appear more volatile in their growth rates. Regarding causality, we develop a new method extending distributed lag models to multilevel situations. These models suggest the causal direction is predominantly growth-to-debt, and is consistent (with some exceptions) across countries. We argue that RR’s findings are too simplistic, with limited policy relevance, whilst demonstrating how multilevel models can explicate realistically complex scenarios.

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