DP8492 | Risk Sharing with the Monarch: Contigent Debt and Excusable Defaults in the Age of Philip II, 1556-1598

Publication Date

01/07/2011

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Abstract

Contingent sovereign debt has the potential to create important welfare gains--but actual issuance is rare. Using hand-collected archival data, we examine the first known case of large-scale issuance of contingent sovereign debt in history. Philip II of Spain entered into hundreds of contracts whose value and due date was contingent upon verifiable, exogenous events such as the arrival of silver fleets. This allowed for effective risk-sharing between the king and his bankers. The defaults that occurred were excusable, occurred in bad states of the world, and under conditions that could not be foreseen or contracted on ex ante.