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What is public debt? [podcast]

What do you think of when you hear the term “public debt?” If you’re familiar with the phrase, you might think about elected officials debating budgets and how to pay for goods and services. Or maybe it’s a vague concept you don’t fully understand.  

On today’s episode of The Oxford Comment, we are joined by two researchers who study the effects of public debt on economies.  

Our first guest, Barry Eichengreen, is a professor of economics and political science at UC Berkeley and one of the authors of the newly published book In Defense of Public Debt. The book recounts 2,000 years of public debt history, putting contemporary political concerns in context. We spoke about how the role of public debt has changed throughout history and about misconceptions of public debt.  

Our second guest, Jonathan Ostry, is Deputy Director of the Asia and Pacific Department at the International Monetary Fund. He recently co-authored an article on inequality and pandemics in the journal Industrial and Corporate Change. We spoke about how pandemics, especially COVID-19, can affect inequality and the role of public debt in these situations.   

Check out Episode 65 of The Oxford Comment and subscribe to The Oxford Comment podcast through your favourite podcast app to listen to the latest insights from our expert authors.


Recommended reading

To learn more about public debt, check out Barry Eichengreen’s book, In Defense of Public Debt, exploring the history of public debt. Eichengreen is also the author of several other books, including The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era, Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History, and Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System.

You can also read Jonathan Ostry’s article “The rise in inequality after pandemics: can fiscal support play a mitigating role?” in the journal Industrial and Corporate Change. Ostry is also the author of Confronting Inequality: How Societies Can Choose Inclusive Growth from Columbia University Press.

Additionally, you can learn more about public debt and inequality in The Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality, an entry on “Post-Disaster Recovery and Social Capital” in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health, and an entry on “Sovereign Debt: Theory” in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance.

Featured image: Photo by @jaredmurray on Unsplash.

Recent Comments

  1. AT

    I don’t quite understand the jump from inequality especially in times of crisis, like now with the pandemic, to the use of public debt. Of course the role of the state should be to help minimize the inequality by helping those who need that — but why does it have to be via debt?

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