The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation

12 February by Scott Fullwiler , Stephanie Kelton , Catherine Ruetschlin , Marshall Steinbaum


Occupy Student Debt (CC - Flickr - Andra Mihali)

Executive Summary

More than 44 million Americans are caught in a student debt trap. Collectively, they owe nearly $1.4 trillion on outstanding student loan debt. Research shows that this level of debt hurts the US economy in a variety of ways, holding back everything from small business formation to new home buying, and even marriage and reproduction. It is a problem that policymakers have attempted to mitigate with programs that offer refinancing or partial debt cancellation. But what if something far more ambitious were tried? What if the population were freed from making any future payments on the current stock of outstanding student loan debt? Could it be done, and if so, how? What would it mean for the US economy?

This report seeks to answer those very questions. The analysis proceeds in three sections: the first explores the current US context of increasing college costs and reliance on debt to finance higher education; the second section works through the balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. sheet mechanics required to liberate Americans from student loan debt; and the final section simulates the economic effects of this debt cancellation using two models, Ray Fair’s US Macroeconomic Model (“the Fair model”) and Moody’s US Macroeconomic Model.

Several important implications emerge from this analysis. Student debt cancellation results in positive macroeconomic feedback effects as average households’ net worth and disposable income increase, driving new consumption and investment spending. In short, we find that debt cancellation lifts GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
, decreases the average unemployment rate, and results in little inflationary pressure (all over the 10-year horizon of our simulations), while interest rates Interest rates When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as a supplementary sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The interest is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. To take a very simple example: if A borrows 100 million dollars for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 5%, the first year he will repay a tenth of the capital initially borrowed (10 million dollars) plus 5% of the capital owed, i.e. 5 million dollars, that is a total of 15 million dollars. In the second year, he will again repay 10% of the capital borrowed, but the 5% now only applies to the remaining 90 million dollars still due, i.e. 4.5 million dollars, or a total of 14.5 million dollars. And so on, until the tenth year when he will repay the last 10 million dollars, plus 5% of that remaining 10 million dollars, i.e. 0.5 million dollars, giving a total of 10.5 million dollars. Over 10 years, the total amount repaid will come to 127.5 million dollars. The repayment of the capital is not usually made in equal instalments. In the initial years, the repayment concerns mainly the interest, and the proportion of capital repaid increases over the years. In this case, if repayments are stopped, the capital still due is higher…

The nominal interest rate is the rate at which the loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate reduced by the rate of inflation.
increase only modestly. Though the federal budget deficit does increase, state-level budget positions improve as a result of the stronger economy. The use of two models with contrasting long-run theoretical foundations offers a plausible range for each of these effects and demonstrates the robustness of our results.

A one-time policy of student debt cancellation, in which the federal government cancels the loans it holds directly and takes over the financing of privately owned loans on behalf of borrowers, results in the following macroeconomic effects (all dollar values are in real, inflation Inflation The cumulated rise of prices as a whole (e.g. a rise in the price of petroleum, eventually leading to a rise in salaries, then to the rise of other prices, etc.). Inflation implies a fall in the value of money since, as time goes by, larger sums are required to purchase particular items. This is the reason why corporate-driven policies seek to keep inflation down. -adjusted terms, using 2016 as the base year):

- The policy of debt cancellation could boost real GDP by an average of $86 billion to $108 billion per year. Over the 10-year forecast, the policy generates between $861 billion and $1,083 billion in real GDP (2016 dollars).

- Eliminating student debt reduces the average unemployment rate by 0.22 to 0.36 percentage points over the 10-year forecast.

- Peak job creation in the first few years following the elimination of student loan debt adds roughly 1.2 million to 1.5 million new jobs per year.

- The inflationary effects of cancelling the debt are macroeconomically insignificant. In the Fair model simulations, additional inflation peaks at about 0.3 percentage points and turns negative in later years. In the Moody’s model, the effect is even smaller, with the pickup in inflation peaking at a trivial 0.09 percentage points.

- Nominal interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. rates rise modestly. In the early years, the Federal Reserve FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank : http://www.federalreserve.gov/
raises target rates 0.3 to 0.5 percentage points; in later years, the increase falls to just 0.2 percentage points. The effect on nominal longer-term interest rates peaks at 0.25 to 0.5 percentage points and declines thereafter, settling at 0.21 to 0.35 percentage points.

- The net budgetary effect for the federal government is modest, with a likely increase in the deficit-to-GDP ratio of 0.65 to 0.75 percentage points per year. Depending on the federal government’s budget position overall, the deficit ratio could rise more modestly, ranging between 0.59 and 0.61 percentage points. However, given that the costs of funding the Department of Education’s student loans have already been incurred (discussed in detail in Section 2), the more relevant estimates for the impacts on the government’s budget position relative to current levels are an annual increase in the deficit ratio of between 0.29 and 0.37 percentage points. (This is explained in further detail in Appendix B.)

- State budget deficits as a percentage of GDP improve by about 0.11 percentage points during the entire simulation period.

- Research suggests many other positive spillover effects that are not accounted for in these simulations, including increases in small business formation, degree attainment, and household formation, as well as improved access to credit and reduced household vulnerability to business cycle downturns. Thus, our results provide a conservative estimate of the macro effects of student debt liberation.

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