DP6954 | Harnessing Windfall Revenues in Developing Economies: Sovereign Wealth Funds and Optimal Tradeoffs Between Citizen Dividends, Public Infrastructure and Debt Reduction

Publication Date

23/09/2008

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Abstract

A windfall of foreign aid or natural resource revenue faces government with choices of how to manage public borrowing, public asset accumulation, and the distribution of funds to households (across time and household types), particularly when the windfall is both anticipated and temporary. These choices are acute if some households do not have access to credit markets and are unable to smooth consumption, and if the country as a whole is not a price-taker in international capital markets - both reasonable descriptions of many developing countries experiencing resource (or aid) booms. We analyse the optimal policy actions for countries in this position and show that the usual permanent income hypothesis prescription of engineering a permanent increase in consumption financed by borrowing ahead of the windfall and then accumulating a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is not optimal. Heavily indebted countries with a small windfall should both increase current consumption and accumulate capital to accelerate their development. Only if the windfall is large relative to initial debt is it optimal to build a SWF. We study the intricate dynamic trade-offs faced when using the windfall to pay off debt and possibly accumulate a SWF, build public infrastructure and hand out citizen dividends. Finally, we show that a more sophisticated range of instruments (e.g., an asset holding subsidy) makes the trade-offs easier.