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From Deficit Delusion to the Fiscal Balance Rule: Looking for an Economically Meaningful Way to Assess Fiscal Policy

In: Generational Accounting around the World

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  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff
  • Willi Leibfritz

Abstract

Notwithstanding its widespread use as a measure of fiscal policy, the government deficit is not a well-defined concept from the perspective of neoclassical macro economics. From the neoclassical perspective the deficit is an arbitrary accounting construct whose value depends on how the government chooses to label its receipts and payments. This paper demonstrates the arbitrary nature of government deficits. The argument that the deficit is not well-defined is first framed in a simple certainty model with nondistortionary policies, and then in settings with uncertain policy, distortionary policy, and liquidity constraints. As an alternative to economically arbitrary deficits, the paper indicates that the "Fiscal Balance Rule" is one norm for measuring whether current policy will place a larger or smaller burden on future generations than it does on current generations. The Fiscal Balance Rule is based on the economy's intertemporal budget constraint and appears to underlie actual attempts to run tight fiscal policy. It says take in net present value from each new young generation an amount equal to the flow of government consumption less interest on the difference between a) the value of the economy's capital stock and b) the present value difference between the future consumption and future labor earnings of existing older generations. While the rule is a mouth-full, one can use existing data to check whether it is being obeyed and, therefore, whether future generations are likely to be treated better or worse than current generations.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Willi Leibfritz, 1999. "Generational Accounting around the World," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number auer99-1, July.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 6683.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:6683

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    1. Joseph G. Altonji & Aloysius Siow, 1986. "Testing the Response of Consumption to Income Changes with (Noisy) PanelData," NBER Working Papers 2012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Christophe Chamley, 1980. "The Welfare Cost of Capital Income Taxation in a Growing Economy," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 553, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    3. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1979. "Social Security and Equilibrium Capital Intensity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 233-53, May.
    4. Laitner, John, 1990. "Tax Changes and Phase Diagrams for an Overlapping Generations Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(1), pages 193-220, February.
    5. Eisner, Robert & Pieper, Paul J, 1986. "A New View of the Federal Debt and Budget Deficits: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1156-57, December.
    6. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1984. "Taxation and Savings: A Neoclassical Perspective," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 22(4), pages 1576-1629, December.
    7. Fumio Hayashi, 1985. "Tests for Liquidity Constraints: A Critical Survey," NBER Working Papers 1720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Thomas J. Sargent & Neil Wallace, 1981. "Some unpleasant monetarist arithmetic," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall.
    9. Michael J. Boskin & Marc S. Robinson & Alan M. Huber, 1987. "Government Saving, Capital Formation and Wealth in the United States, 1947-1985," NBER Working Papers 2352, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Martin Feldstein, 1983. "Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld83-2, July.
    11. Feldstein, Martin (ed.), 1983. "Behavioral Simulation Methods in Tax Policy Analysis," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226240848, January.
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