cr1 - April 16, 2008 This Time is Different: A Panoramic...

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April 16, 2008 This Time is Different: A Panoramic View of Eight Centuries of Financial Crises * Carmen M. Reinhart, University of Maryland and NBER Kenneth S. Rogoff, Harvard University and NBER Abstract This paper offers a “panoramic” analysis of the history of financial crises dating from England’s fourteenth-century default to the current United States sub-prime financial crisis. Our study is based on a new dataset that spans all regions. It incorporates a number of important credit episodes seldom covered in the literature, including for example, defaults and restructurings in India and China. As the first paper employing this data, our aim is to illustrate some of the broad insights that can be gleaned from such a sweeping historical database. We find that serial default is a nearly universal phenomenon as countries struggle to transform themselves from emerging markets to advanced economies. Major default episodes are typically spaced some years (or decades) apart, creating an illusion that “this time is different” among policymakers and investors. A recent example of the “this time is different” syndrome is the false belief that domestic debt is a novel feature of the modern financial landscape. We also confirm that crises frequently emanate from the financial centers with transmission through interest rate shocks and commodity price collapses. Thus, the recent US sub-prime financial crisis is hardly unique. Our data also documents other crises that often accompany default: including inflation, exchange rate crashes, banking crises, and currency debasements. JEL E6, F3, and N0 * The authors are grateful to Vincent Reinhart, John Singleton, Arvind Subramanian, and seminar participants at Columbia and Harvard Universities for useful comments and suggestions and Ethan Ilzetzki, Fernando Im, and Vania Stavrakeva for excellent research assistance.
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1 I. Introduction The economics profession has an unfortunate tendency to view recent experience in the narrow window provided by standard datasets. With a few notable exceptions, cross- country empirical studies on financial crises typically begin in 1980 and are limited in several other important respects. 1 Yet an event that is rare in a three decade span may not be all that rare when placed in a broader context. This paper introduces a comprehensive new historical database for studying international debt and banking crises, inflation, currency crashes and debasements. The data covers sixty-six countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania. The range of variables encompasses, among many other dimensions, external and domestic debt, trade, GNP, inflation, exchange rates, interest rates, and commodity prices. The coverage spans eight centuries, generally going back to the date of independence for most countries, and well into the colonial period for some. As we detail in an annotated appendix, the construction of our dataset has built heavily on the work of earlier scholars.
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cr1 - April 16, 2008 This Time is Different: A Panoramic...

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