Sustainability of Public Debt: Evidence from Pre-World War II Japan


Japan defaulted on its public debts only once throughout its modern history, after World War II (WWII). How did Japan lose its ability to sustain its public debts? This paper explores the sustainability of public debts in Japan before and during WWII. First, this paper reviews the brief history of pre-WWII public finance in Japan with reference to some narrative evidence, data, and previous works. Second, this paper conducts three stages of econometric analyses. It tests Ricardian neutrality of public debt. It tests the dynamic efficiency of Japanese economy, and it conducts Bohn's tests for the relationship between public debt and primary fiscal balance. The tests indicate that Japanese public debts were sustainable until 1931, and unsustainable in and after 1932. Third, this paper interprets the results of quantitative analyses with narrative modes of analysis. During the 1930s, Japan lost its fiscal discipline because of the military's effective veto over budgetary processes and because of the absence of pressure for sound fiscal policy from international financial markets.

JEL Classifications: E62, H63, N15

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