<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Visit this website to read about how the recovery is being affected by fiscal policies.

Political realties and discretionary fiscal policy

A final problem for discretionary fiscal policy arises out of the difficulties of explaining to politicians how countercyclical fiscal policy that runs against the tide of the business cycle should work. Politicians often have a gut-level belief that when the economy and tax revenues slow down, it is time to hunker down, pinch pennies, and trim expenses. Countercyclical policy, however, says that when the economy has slowed down, it is time for the government to go on a spree, raising spending, and cutting taxes. This offsets the drop in the economy in the other sectors. Conversely, when economic times are good and tax revenues are rolling in, politicians often feel that it is time for tax cuts and new spending. But countercyclical policy says that this economic boom should be an appropriate time for keeping taxes high and restraining spending.

Politicians tend to prefer expansionary fiscal policy over contractionary policy. There is rarely a shortage of proposals for tax cuts and spending increases, especially during recessions. However, politicians are less willing to hear the message that in good economic times, they should propose tax increases and spending limits. In the economic upswing of the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, the U.S. GDP grew rapidly. Estimates from respected government economic forecasters like the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget stated that the GDP was above potential GDP, and that unemployment rates were unsustainably low. However, no mainstream politician took the lead in saying that the booming economic times might be an appropriate time for spending cuts or tax increases.

Discretionary fiscal policy: summing up

Expansionary fiscal policy can help to end recessions and contractionary fiscal policy can help to reduce inflation. Given the uncertainties over interest rate effects, time lags, temporary and permanent policies, and unpredictable political behavior, many economists and knowledgeable policymakers had concluded by the mid-1990s that discretionary fiscal policy was a blunt instrument, more like a club than a scalpel. It might still make sense to use it in extreme economic situations, like an especially deep or long recession. For less extreme situations, it was often preferable to let fiscal policy work through the automatic stabilizers and focus on monetary policy to steer short-term countercyclical efforts.

Key concepts and summary

Because fiscal policy affects the quantity of money that the government borrows in financial capital markets, it not only affects aggregate demand—it can also affect interest rates. If an expansionary fiscal policy also causes higher interest rates, then firms and households are discouraged from borrowing and spending, reducing aggregate demand in a situation called crowding out. Given the uncertainties over interest rate effects, time lags (implementation lag, legislative lag, and recognition lag), temporary and permanent policies, and unpredictable political behavior, many economists and knowledgeable policymakers have concluded that discretionary fiscal policy is a blunt instrument and better used only in extreme situations.


Leduc, Sylvain, and Daniel Wilson. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: Working Paper Series. “Are State Governments Roadblocks to Federal Stimulus? Evidence from Highway Grants in the 2009 Recovery Act. (Working Paper 2013-16).” Last modified July 2013. http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/files/wp2013-16.pdf.

Lucking, Brian, and Daniel Wilson. “FRBSF Economic Letter-Fiscal Headwinds: Is the Other Shoe About to Drop?” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco . Last modified June 3, 2013. http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2013/june/fiscal-headwinds-federal-budget-policy/.

Recovery.gov. “Track the Money.” http://www.recovery.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

Bastagli, Francesca, David Coady, and Sanjeev Gupta. International Monetary Fund. “IMF Staff Discussion Note: Income Inequality and Fiscal Policy.” Last modified June 28, 2012. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2012/sdn1208.pdf.

Questions & Answers

a mixed economic system
Ngong Reply
What are the types of price elasticity of demand
Juliana Reply
what are massures to promote geographical mobility of labor?
Is to make sure that a labourer to know more about his salary to earn before going to the direction
what is trade
Trade is a basic economic concept involving the buying and selling of goods and services, with compensation paid by a buyer to a seller, or the exchange of goods or services between parties. Trade can take place within an economy between producers and consumers.
what is fisical policy?
ha Reply
fisical policy or fiscal policy?
what are.the characteristics of economic goods
what are the importance of labour market?
how discrib the rural development and their four stages
Sheikh Reply
ye economics se related ha
1..traditional stage..no science and technology is applied hence poor productionuu.2..the take off stage..some development strategies are initiated eg transport system is improved but the traditional cultural belief still remain .3..the prematurely stage..technological methods of production are appl
applied leading to higher GDP..4..stage of mass consumption..
What is Easiest Formula For National Income?
Tenzin Reply
national income/ agrrigate net value
what do you mean by the supply of goods
sachin Reply
supply of good refer to the total unit of production which is ready to sell at a given price
what is implicit cost
fuseini Reply
any cost that has already occurred but not necessarily shown or reported as a separate expense.
The links don't seem to be working
Scorch Reply
what is taxonomy
wise Reply
how to interprets elasticity
Joseph Reply
what is demand curve
It is the graphical representation of quantity demand of a commodity?
it is the graphical representation of price and quantity demanded of a commodity
what is the difference between positive economics and normative economics.
pauline Reply
It said that positive economics studies the facts, but normative one focus on ought to be.
in another words normative economics focuses on what the fair situation is.
positive economics: wages are 10$ per hour. normative economics: wages should be 25$ per hour.
what is choice
Hamis Reply
what is indifference curve
Misba Reply
It is an alternative combination of consumption of two goods which gives equal level of satisfaction.
good morning guys.. I am Lawrence from Nigeria.. trust am welcome here..
Lawrence Reply
are you ecnomist?
I am a researcher
you all are ecnomost
ohh nice
re search on economy

Get the best Principles of economics course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Principles of economics' conversation and receive update notifications?