House prices, private debt and the macroeconomics of comparative political economy

By James Wood, Engelbert Stockhammer

PKES Working Paper 2005

February 2020

Prevailing Comparative Political Economy accounts conceptualise the macroeconomic role of the financial sector in advanced economies either through the Varieties of Capitalism’s (VoC) emphasis on corporate finance or on the growth model perspective’s focus on household debt to support consumption. As neither framework accounts for the important macroeconomic influence of house prices and mortgage credit, we suggest the prevailing Comparative Political Economy accounts of the financial sector remain underdeveloped. Through an econometric evaluation of 18 advanced economies from 1980 to 2017, we demonstrate that household debt has larger and more statistically significant effects on GDP growth than business debt, and household debt volumes are largely determined by house price inflation. These results are consistent across the varieties of capitalism and advanced banking systems, suggesting the VoC’s focus on corporate finance is misplaced and the macroeconomic effects of household debt and house prices are underappreciated, especially in non-Anglo-American advanced economies.

Keywords: Comparative political economy, macroeconomics; household debt, house prices

JEL classification: N10