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HKS Authors

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Minos A. Zombanakis Professor of the International Financial System


This paper studies sovereign debt relief in a long-term perspective. We quantify the relief achieved through default and restructuring in two distinct samples: 1920–1939, focusing on the defaults on official (government to government) debt in advanced economies after World War I; and 1978–2010, focusing on emerging market debt crises with private external creditors. Debt relief was substantial in both eras, averaging 21% of GDP in the 1930s and 16% of GDP in recent decades. We then analyze the aftermath of debt relief and conduct a difference-in-differences analysis around the synchronous war debt defaults of 1934 and the Baker and Brady initiatives of the 1980s/1990s. The economic landscape of debtor countries improves significantly after debt relief operations, but only if these involve debt write-offs. Softer forms of debt relief, such as maturity extensions and interest rate reductions, are not generally followed by higher economic growth or improved credit ratings.


Reinhart, Carmen M., and Christoph Trebesch. "Sovereign Debt Relief and Its Aftermath." Journal of the European Economic Association 14.1 (February 2016): 215-251.