Why fiscal sustainability matters
Willem Buiter, 10 January 2014
Fiscal sustainability has become a hot topic as a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, but it matters in normal times, too. This column argues that financial sector reforms are essential to ensure fiscal sustainability in the future. Although emerging market reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s were beneficial, complacency is not warranted. In the US, political gridlock must be overcome to reform entitlements and the tax system. In the Eurozone, creating a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism should be a priority.
Does fiscal sustainability matter only when there is a fiscal house on fire, as was the case with the Greek sovereign insolvency in 2011–12? Far from it.
Topics: Financial markets, Global crisis, International finance, Macroeconomic policy
Tags: balance-sheet recession, banking, banking union, banks, capital flows, credit booms, Currency wars, emerging markets, eurozone, Eurozone crisis, financial crisis, fiscal policy, fiscal sustainability, global financial crisis, sovereign debt, sovereign debt restructuring
Catenarian fiscal discipline
Hans Gersbach, 4 January 2014
Democratic governments tend to accumulate excessive debt. This column proposes a new rule – the ‘Catenarian Fiscal Discipline’ – which allows a fiscally disciplined incumbent to limit the debt-making of the next officeholder. This way, fiscal discipline today can lead to fiscal discipline in the future. Such a rule would require that we broaden our notion of representative democracy by recognising the fact that a current government already has various implicit ways of limiting what its elected successors can do.
Limiting the accumulation of public debt in democracies has always been a problem, but it has become a particularly pressing one in the last few decades.
Topics: Macroeconomic policy
Tags: debt, democracy, fiscal discipline, fiscal policy, time inconsistency
Tax policy in (and for) hard times
Michael Keen, 16 October 2013
Fiscal consolidation, and public concern that its pain be fairly spread, is putting tax systems under considerable pressure. This column takes stock of how they have been faring, and how they could do better.
Tax policy, like everything else, has been through tough times since the onset of the crisis. First, tax policy was to stimulate the economy (Heady 2011). Now it is to help consolidate the fiscal position – always with considerable urgency and all in the midst of public anger and disquiet.
Topics: Macroeconomic policy, Taxation
Tags: fiscal consolidation, fiscal policy, global crisis, Inequality, taxation, wealth
Carlos A. Vegh , Guillermo Vuletin, 1 October 2013
Government spending is procyclical in developing countries, exacerbating the business cycle. However, an analysis of tax policy is also required in order to properly assess the overall stance of fiscal policy. This column presents recent research showing that tax policy tends to be procyclical in developing countries and acyclical in developed countries. Although some developing countries have managed to escape the procyclical fiscal policy trap, some developed nations – notably Eurozone members – are falling into it.
It is well-established that government spending in developing countries has often been procyclical. In other words, government spending has increased in good times and contracted in bad times, thus exacerbating the underlying business cycle. The inability to save in good times to build a war chest for bad times has often led to wrenching financial and sovereign-debt crises.
Topics: Macroeconomic policy, Taxation
Tags: austerity, business cycles, cyclicality, developing countries, fiscal policy, tax
When is the time for austerity?
Alan Taylor, 20 July 2013
Recent austerity policies have been guided by ideology rather than research. This column discusses research that reconciles disparate estimates of fiscal multipliers in the literature. It finds that common identification assumptions are problematic. Matching methods based on propensity scores show how contractionary austerity really is, especially in economies operating below potential.
In 1809, on a battlefield in Portugal, the first recognisable medical trial evaluated bloodletting on a sample of 366 soldiers allocated into treatment and control groups. The cure was shown to be bogus. It was the beginning of the end of pre-modern medicine.
Topics: Macroeconomic policy
Tags: austerity, fiscal policy, UK
Spillovers: Why macro-fiscal policy should be coordinated in economic unions
Gerald A. Carlino, Robert P Inman, 24 June 2013
How should macro-fiscal policy be coordinated in economic unions? This column argues that the received wisdom has it right, and presents new empirical evidence suggesting that there are important positive spillovers between an economic union’s lower-tier governments in the management of macro-stabilisation policies. We should pursue coordinated policies. Finding programmes and institutions that can best facilitate this coordination is the important next step, both for new and established economic unions.
The recent Great Recession in the US and Europe has generated renewed interest in the management of macro-stabilisation fiscal policy in economic unions. The received wisdom among economists is that such fiscal policies can only be managed efficiently by an overarching central government. Oates, in his classic treatise on fiscal federalism, concludes:
Topics: Europe's nations and regions, Macroeconomic policy
Tags: Eurozone crisis, fiscal policy
Self-defeating austerity shocks
Reda Cherif, Fuad Hasanov, 3 May 2013
Europe’s austerity-first approach has triggered research-based efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of debt-reduction strategies. This column, based on a US empirical study, suggests that an ‘austerity shock’ in a weak economy may be self-defeating. Public-debt reduction historically occurs gradually amid improved growth. If policymakers, firms and households respond as in the past, we should expect lower deficits amid higher growth and, eventually, decreasing debt ratios.
In many advanced countries, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, deficits skyrocketed and public debt ballooned (see Figure 1). In fact, fiscal stimulus accounted for only a small fraction of the increase in debt, whereas collapsing revenues and higher unemployment and social benefits contributed the largest share (IMF 2011).
Topics: Global crisis
Tags: austerity, Eurozone crisis, fiscal policy
Why do emerging markets liberalise capital-outflow controls? Fiscal versus net capital flow concerns
Joshua Aizenman, Gurnain Kaur Pasricha, 2 May 2013
Recent years have seen a return to the capital controls policy debate. Presenting new data, this column argues that liberalisation of capital-outflow controls can allow emerging-market economies to reduce net capital inflow pressures, but may cost emerging economies the fiscal revenues that external financial repression generates.
Recent years have seen a re-emergence on the capital controls policy debate:
Topics: International finance, Monetary policy
Tags: capital outflow, fiscal policy
Should the role of preparing budgetary projections be delegated to an independent agency?
Rossana Merola, Javier J. Pérez, 1 May 2013
Who should we trust when it comes to fiscal forecasts: governments or independent agencies? This column argues that this question is, in fact, a red herring: empirical evidence suggests that in the past, international agencies’ fiscal forecasts were partially affected by the same problems that the literature widely acknowledges for governmental forecasts. An attractive solution is independent national forecasters.
The debate about fiscal forecasts has recently been growing more intense in Europe. At its root, there is the evidence of planned government deficits significantly exceeding recurrent budgetary plans in recent years. This comes at a time of high public deficit and debt levels for EU member states.
Topics: Global crisis, Monetary policy
Tags: Eurozone crisis, fiscal policy, forecasting
Budget balance, structural unemployment and fiscal adjustments: The Spanish case
Javier Andrés, Rafael Doménech, 5 April 2013
Fiscal adjustment and structural reform are key parts of Eurozone bailout packages (or key features of government policy that aims to avoid such bailouts). This column argues that patience is the most prized virtue of policymakers implementing fiscal adjustment and structural reform. Reducing unemployment and fiscal consolidation are mutually reinforcing, but they move at different speeds.
One of the most important questions in the current process of fiscal consolidation in many developed economies concerns the size and the pace of the adjustment. An excessive and/or too-fast fiscal retrenchment can have dramatic effects on unemployment and growth, while if it is too slow, it can prove to be ineffective and lack credibility in the eyes of the financial markets.
Topics: Europe's nations and regions
Tags: Eurozone crisis, fiscal policy, Spain, structural adjustment, unemployment