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The u.s. government bulks large in the nation's financial markets. The huge volume of government-issued and -sponsored debt affects the pricing and volume ofprivate debt and, consequently, resource allocation between competing alternatives. What is often not fully appreciated is the substantial influence the federal government wields overresource allocation through its provisionofcreditandrisk-bearing services to the private economy. Because peopleand firms generally seekto avoid risk, atsomeprice they are willing to pay another party to assume the risk they would otherwise face. Insurance companies are a class of private-sector firms one commonly thinks of as providing these services. As the federal government has expanded its presence in the U.S. economy during this century, it has increasingly developed programs aimed at bearing risks that the private sector either would not take on at any price, or would take on but atapricethoughtto besogreatthatmostpotentialbeneficiarieswouldnotpurchase the coverage. Today, roughly three-fifths of all nonfederal credit outstanding is 1 assisted by some form of federal program. The federal government provides insurance of many private pension plans through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, subsidizesand implicitly guarantees the liabilitiesofseveral agencies dominating secondary loan markets (for example, the Federal National Mortgage Association, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, and Student Loan Mar ketingAssociation),andeithermakesdirectloansorguaranteesprivatelygenerated loans through a varietyofcreditprograms to farmers, exporters, home purchasers, and others.
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