Will the U.S. government inflate away the public debt?

For the most part, no, although financial repression is an issue to look out for.  There is a new NBER Working Paper by Jens Hilscher, Alon Raviv, and Ricardo Reis which works through the numbers:

We propose and implement a method that provides quantitative estimates of the extent to which higher- than-expected inflation can lower the real value of outstanding government debt. Looking forward, we derive a formula for the debt burden that relies on detailed information about debt maturity and claimholders, and that uses option prices to construct risk-adjusted probability distributions for inflation at different horizons. The estimates suggest that it is unlikely that inflation will lower the US fiscal burden significantly, and that the effect of higher inflation is modest for plausible counterfactuals. If instead inflation is combined with financial repression that ex post extends the maturity of the debt, then the reduction in value can be significant.

“Financial repression will be a harbinger of inflation” is an underrated sentence.  Another is “short-term debt structure is the new gold standard,” as it limits the revenue gains from higher inflation.  There are ungated copies of the paper here.


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