Debt Default and Democracy
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Debt Default and Democracy

Edited by Giuseppe Eusepi and Richard E. Wagner

The original chapters in this book connect the microeconomic and macroeconomic approaches to public debt. Through their thought-provoking views, leading scholars offer insights into the incentives that individuals and governments may have in resorting to public debt, thereby promoting a clearer understanding of its economic consequences.
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Chapter 4: Debt default and the limits of the contractual imagination: Pareto and Mosca meet Buchanan

Richard E. Wagner


Personal debts are obligations that people establish through agreement among one another, so it is easy to understand the general objection to defaulting on personal debts. Can such objections be reasonably extended to public debts within democratic regimes? Much depends on how reasonable it is to characterize democracy as a genuine system of self-governance, as against being a system where relationships of domination and subordination are masked by ideological claims on behalf of self-governance. Democratic governance always rests with a subset of the population. To be sure, it is conceivable, though not necessary, that governance could nonetheless proceed in a generally consensual fashion. Debt default is always a latent possibility that depends on momentary patterns of political coalition.

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