Stylised fact or situated messiness? The diverse effects of increasing debt on national economic growth

Andrew Bell*, Ron Johnston, Kelvyn Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


This article reanalyses data used by Reinhart and Rogoff (2010c, American Economic Review, 100: 573-78-RR), and later Herndon et al. (2013, Cambridge Journal of Economics, online, doi: 10.1093/cje/bet075) to consider the relationship between growth and debt in developed countries. The consistency over countries and the causal direction of RR's so called 'stylised fact' is considered. Using multilevel models, we find that when the effect of debt on growth is allowed to vary, and linear time trends are fully controlled for, the average effect of debt on growth disappears, whilst countryspecific debt relations vary significantly. Additionally, countries with high debt levels appear more volatile in their growth rates. Regarding causality, we develop a new method extending distributed lag models to multilevel situations. These models suggest the causal direction is predominantly growth-to-debt, and is consistent (with some exceptions) across countries. We argue that RR's findings are too simplistic, with limited policy relevance, whilst demonstrating how multilevel models can explicate realistically complex scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-472
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Economic Geography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Economic growth
  • Multilevel modelling
  • Public debt
  • Reverse causality


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