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Sovereign Debt Without Default Penalties∗


Alexander Guembel

Saïd Business School, Lincoln College, University of Oxford


Oren Sussman

Saïd Business School, Wadham College, University of Oxford



The basic question regarding sovereign debt is why sovereign borrowers ever repay, provided that creditors have no power to foreclose on any of their assets. In this paper we suggest an answer: sovereign debt will be served as long as the median voter is a net loser from default. Default generates a reallocation of wealth from locals to foreigners, but also from local debtholders to local tax payers. Sovereign debt is stable as long as the median voter’s interests are more aligned with the foreign lenders than with the local taxpayers. We further augment the model with elements of market microstructure theory to address the question how markets rationally use capital flows so as to infer the stability of debt structure. We show that foreign demand shocks can destabilise debt even though they are not fundamental. We also show that more volatile foreign demand reduces a country’s debt capacity. Our work thus integrates elements of market microstructure theory into politicaleconomy modeling.



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