Networked Default: Public Debt, Trade Embeddedness, and Partisan Survival in Democracies since 1870

Publication Date
Systemic Risk Centre Discussion Papers DP 22
Publication Authors

Sovereign default is often associated with the downfall of incumbent governments in democratic polities. Existing scholarship directs attention to the relationship between default and domestic politics and institutions rather than the broader international environment wherein repayment and default take place. We explore the possibility that the impact of a country’s decision to default on partisan survival will also be shaped by the prevalence of default amongst its peers in its local network. Illustrating this line of reasoning with international trade, our results support the argument that given networked default, voters see national default as a lost strategic opportunity to elevate a country’s reputation and are more inclined to punish incumbent regimes who fail to repay. These results are inconsistent with an alternative possibility — that networked default might contribute to the decay of a repayment norm and thus provide a justifiable “excuse” for default at home. Furthermore, our results are robust to alternative measures of regime governance and entropy balancing in light of systematic differences between defaulting and non-defaulting regimes. Overall, our findings point to the political interdependence of default and repayment and the need for political scientists to take greater account of network effects in analyzing the consequences of economic misbehavior.