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The automatic fiscal stabilizers: quietly doing their thing

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  • Darrel Cohen
  • Glenn Follette

Abstract

This paper presents theoretical and empirical analysis of automatic fiscal stabilizers, such as the income tax and unemployment insurance benefits. Using the modern theory of consumption behavior, we identify several channels--insurance effects, wealth effects and liquidity constraints- -through which the optimal reaction of household consumption plans to aggregate income shocks is tempered by the automatic fiscal stabilizers. In addition we identify a cash flow channel for investment. The empirical importance of automatic stabilizers is addressed in several ways. We estimate elasticities of the various federal taxes with respect to their tax bases and responses of certain components of federal spending to changes in the unemployment rate. Such estimates are useful for analysts who forecast federal revenues and spending; the estimates also allow high- employment or cyclically-adjusted federal tax receipts and expenditures to be estimated. Using frequency domain techniques, we confirm that the relationships found in the time domain are strong at the business cycle frequencies. Using the FRB/US macro-econometric model of the United States economy, the automatic fiscal stabilizers are found to play a modest role at damping the short-run effect of aggregate demand shocks on real GDP, reducing the "multiplier" by about 10 percent. Very little stabilization is provided in the case of an aggregate supply shock.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its journal Economic Policy Review.

Volume (Year): (2000)
Issue (Month): Apr ()
Pages: 35-67

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednep:y:2000:i:apr:p:35-67:n:v.6no.1

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Keywords: Fiscal policy ; Consumption (Economics) ; Business cycles ; Economic stabilization;

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References

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  1. Baxter, Marianne & King, Robert G, 1993. "Fiscal Policy in General Equilibrium," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 315-34, June.
  2. McCallum, B. T. & Whitaker, J. K., 1979. "The effectiveness of fiscal feedback rules and automatic stabilizers under rational expectations," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 171-186, April.
  3. Rebecca M. Blank, 2000. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," JCPR Working Papers 18, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  4. F. Brayton & P. Tinsley, 1996. "A guide to FRB/US: a macroeconomic model of the United States," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-42, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Francis X. Diebold & Glenn D. Rudebusch, 1990. "Have postwar economic fluctuations been stabilized?," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 33, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. Christina D. Romer, 1999. "Changes in Business Cycles: Evidence and Explanations," NBER Working Papers 6948, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Alan J. Auerbach & Daniel Feenberg, 2000. "The Significance of Federal Taxes as Automatic Stabilizers," NBER Working Papers 7662, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. David Reifschneider & Robert Tetlow & John Williams, 1999. "Aggregate disturbances, monetary policy, and the macroeconomy: the FRB/US perspective," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Jan, pages 1-19.
  9. Blanchard, Olivier J, 1981. "Output, the Stock Market, and Interest Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(1), pages 132-43, March.
  10. Christiano, Lawrence J., 1984. "A reexamination of the theory of automatic stabilizers," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 147-206, January.
  11. Andrew Atkeson & Christopher Phelan, 1994. "Reconsidering the Costs of Business Cycles with Incomplete Markets," NBER Working Papers 4719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. R. Glenn Hubbard, 1997. "Capital-Market Imperfections and Investment," NBER Working Papers 5996, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Chan, Louis Kuo Chi, 1983. "Uncertainty and the neutrality of government financing policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 351-372.
  14. Susanto Basu & Alan M. Taylor, 1999. "Business Cycles in International Historical Perspective," NBER Working Papers 7090, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
  16. Robert B. Barsky & N. Gregory Mankiw & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1987. "Ricardian Consumers With Keynesian Propensities," NBER Working Papers 1400, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Aschauer, David Alan, 1985. "Fiscal Policy and Aggregate Demand," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 117-27, March.
  18. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
  19. Darrel Cohen, 1999. "An analysis of government spending in the frequency domain," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-26, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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