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Zombies at Large? Corporate Debt Overhang and the Macroeconomy*

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Swift reorganization or liquidation of insolvent businesses is the single best policy to deal with corporate debt booms.

What are the macroeconomic consequences of business credit booms? Are they as dangerous as household credit booms? If not, why not? We answer these questions by collecting data on non-financial business liabilities (primarily bank loans and corporate bonds) for 17 advanced economies over the past 150 years. Unlike household credit, business credit booms are rarely followed by macroeconomic hangovers. Data on debt renegotiation costs—instrumented by a country’s legal tradition—show that frictions to debt resolution make recessions deeper and longer—an important factor in explaining the differences with household credit booms.

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