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Barry Eichengreen - 'A Surplus of Ambition: Can Europe Solve its Debt Problems by Running Primary Surpluses?'

When Feb 18, 2015
from 06:00 PM to 07:30 PM
Where McGrath Centre, St Catharine's College, Cambridge
Attendees All welcome to attend.
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Date: Wednesday 18 February 2015
Time: 18:00 -19:30
Speaker: Barry Eichengreen
Talk Title: 'A Surplus of Ambition: Can Europe Solve its Debt Problems by Running Primary Surpluses?’
Location: McGrath Centre, St Catharine's College

Barry Eichengreen is the George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1987, and Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, University of Cambridge, 2014-15. 

He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Research Fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (London, England). In 1997-98 he was Senior Policy Advisor at the International Monetary Fund. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (class of 1997). Professor Eichengreen is the convener of the Bellagio Group of academics and economic officials and chair of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Peterson Institute of International Economics. He has held Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and has been a fellow of the Centre for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences (Palo Alto) and the Institute for Advanced Study (Berlin). He is a regular monthly columnist for Project Syndicate.

Talk Overview:
IMF forecasts and the EU's Fiscal Compact foresee Europe's heavily indebted countries running primary budget surpluses of as much as 5 percent of GDP for as long as 10 years in order to maintain debt sustainability and bring their debt/GDP ratios down to the Compact's 60 percent target. We show that primary surpluses this large and persistent are rare. In an extensive sample of high- and middle-income countries there are just 3 (non-overlapping) episodes where countries ran primary surpluses of at least 5 per cent of GDP for 10 years. Analysing a less restrictive definition of persistent surplus episodes (primary surpluses averaging at least 3 percent of GDP for 5 years), we find that surplus episodes are more likely when growth is strong, when the current account of the balance of payments is in surplus (savings rates are high), when the debt-to-GDP ratio is high (heightening the urgency of fiscal adjustment), and when the governing party controls all houses of parliament or congress (its bargaining position is strong). Left wing governments, strikingly, are more likely to run large, persistent primary surpluses. In advanced countries, proportional representation electoral systems that give rise to encompassing coalitions are associated with surplus episodes. The point estimates do not provide much encouragement for the view that a country like Italy will be able to run a primary budget surplus as large and persistent as officially projected.