The political economy of inequality and growth: Essays on sovereign debt, democracy and saving

Claudia Haydee Wehbe, Florida International University


This dissertation addresses three issues in the political economy of growth literature. The first study empirically tests the hypothesis that income inequality influences the size of a country's sovereign debt for a sample of developing countries for the period 1970–1990. The argument examined is that governments tend to yield to popular pressures to engage in redistributive policies, partially financed by foreign borrowing. Facing increased risk of default, international creditors limit the credit they extend, with the result that borrowing countries invest less and grow at a slower pace. The findings do not seem to support the negative relationship between inequality and sovereign debt, as there is evidence of increases in multilateral, countercyclical flows until the mid 1980s in Latin America. The hypothesis would hold for the period 1983–1990. Debt flows and levels seem to be positively correlated with growth as expected. The second study empirically investigates the hypothesis that pronounced levels of inequality lead to unconsolidated democracies. We test the existence of a nonmonotonic relationship between inequality and democracy for a sample of Latin American countries for the period 1970–2000, where democracy appears to consolidate at some intermediate level of inequality. We find that the nonmonotonic relationship holds using instrumental variables methods. Bolivia seems to be a case of unconsolidated democracy. The positive relationship between per capita income and democracy disappears once fixed effects are introduced. The third study explores the nonlinear relationship between per capita income and private saving levels in Latin America. Several estimation methods are presented; however, only the estimation of a dynamic specification through a state-of-the-art general method of moments estimator yields consistent estimates with increased efficiency. Results support the hypothesis that income positively affects private saving, while system GMM reveals nonlinear effects at income levels that exceed the ones included in this sample for the period 1960–1994. We also find that growth, government dissaving, and tightening of credit constraints have a highly significant and positive effect on private saving.

Subject Area

Statistics|Economics|Economic theory

Recommended Citation

Wehbe, Claudia Haydee, "The political economy of inequality and growth: Essays on sovereign debt, democracy and saving" (2007). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3298601.