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More household debt means higher growth rates


Savings and consumption decisions will be more efficient if households have the opportunity to borrow and save as they wish. This in turn would lead to more consumption, and therefore overall growth. The accuracy of this prediction is clearly borne out by developments in Sweden from 1980 to 2000, which is shown in Mårten Bjellerup’s dissertation Essays on Consumption: Aggregation, Asymmetry, and Asset Distributions. Greater opportunities to borrow money in various ways provided households with greater freedom to realize their plans and satisfy their needs, which helped create a higher rate of growth during the period.

One decisive factor for our being able to plan our lives as we wish is the possibility of borrowing and saving: education, cars, homes are just a few of the costly items that most people can afford only by borrowing money. A system where individuals have to save up for education or a home would most probably delay the realization of these plans, an involuntary delay. Since the late 1970s opportunities to borrow money have increased, including more comprehensive student loans and the deregulation of the mortgage market, all of which has made it easier for households to satisfy their needs and wishes.

Influential economic theory has long assumed that the distribution of income and wealth in society does not affect consumption in any substantial way, which is refuted by the findings in this dissertation. The results show that the group with negative net wealth, that is, households where debts are greater than assets, grew during the 1980-2000 period, and this, in turn, has led to a higher rate of growth. Furthermore, the findings show that the positive effect on consumption is probably due to the relatively high income of the group. In other words, this underlines the importance of studying the respective distribution of income and net wealth over time, and moreover separately, since types of assets have extremely different effects on consumption behavior.

The distribution of income and wealth, which has previously been considered of little theoretical importance, proves to be of considerable significance in understanding developments in consumption. Mårten Bjellerup’s dissertation is the first to target this subject, and it indicates that further pursuit of the issue is of great theoretical and practical interest, to economists and to politicians.

Kerstin Brodén | alfa
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