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When is fiscal adjustment an illusion?

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  • Easterly, William

Abstract

Fiscal adjustment is an illusion when it lowers the budget deficit or public debt but leaves the government's net worth unchanged, says the author. Conventional measures of the budget deficit largely measure the change in explicit public sector liabilities (debt). A more appropriate measure of the deficit would be the change in public sector net worth, but many criticize this concept as impossible to measure. The author takes a positive, rather than normative, approach to the net worth definition of fiscal balance. A simple model shows that when an outside agent forces a reduction in a government's conventional deficit (debt accumulation), the government will respond by lowering its asset accumulation or by increasing hidden liabilities. That leaves net worth unchanged, so fiscal adjustment is an illusion. He performs some simple empirical tests on the observational predictions of the model, examining a sample of countries with World Bank and International Monetary Fund adjustmentprograms and case studies of Maastricht Euro countries. The results confirm the model predictions: Fiscal adjustment in these countries was at least partly an illusion.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 2109.

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Date of creation: 31 May 1999
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2109

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Keywords: Environmental Economics&Policies; Payment Systems&Infrastructure; Banks&Banking Reform; Economic Theory&Research; Public Sector Economics&Finance; Economic Theory&Research; National Governance; Public Sector Economics&Finance; Economic Stabilization; Environmental Economics&Policies;

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  1. Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December.
  2. Eisner, Robert, 1984. "Which Budget Deficit? Some Issues of Measurement and Their Implications," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 138-43, May.
  3. repec:imf:imfpdp:9703 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Eichengreen, Barry & von Hagen, Jürgen, 1995. "Fiscal Policy and Monetary Union: Federalism, Fiscal Restrictions and the No-Bailout Rule," CEPR Discussion Papers 1247, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  7. Henning Bohn & Robert P. Inman, . "Balanced Budget Rules and Public Deficits: Evidence from the U.S. States (Reprint 060)," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 10-96, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  8. Buiter, W.H. & Corsetti, G. & Roubini, N., 1992. "Excessive Deficits: Sense and Nonsence in the Treaty of Maastricht," Papers 674, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  9. Eduardo Engel & Ronald Fischer & Alexander Galetovic, 1998. "Infraestructure Franchising and Government Guarantees," Documentos de Trabajo 29, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
  10. Robert Holzmann & Yves Hervé & Roland Demmel, 1996. "The maastricht fiscal criteria: Required but ineffective?," Empirica, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 25-58, February.
  11. Barry Eichengreen & Charles Wyplosz, 1998. "The Stability Pact: more than a minor nuisance?," Economic Policy, CEPR & CES & MSH, vol. 13(26), pages 65-113, 04.
  12. International Monetary Fund, 1996. "Zaire - Background Information and Statistical Data," IMF Staff Country Reports 96/28, International Monetary Fund.
  13. James M. Poterba, 1993. "State Responses to Fiscal Crisis: The Effects of Budgetary Institutionsand Politics," NBER Working Papers 4375, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. repec:fth:coluec:754 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Barry Eichengreen & Jürgen Hagen, 1996. "Fiscal restrictions and monetary union: Rationales, repercussions, reforms," Empirica, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 3-23, February.
  16. 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.
  17. Pritchett, Lant, 1996. "Mind your P's and Q's : the cost of public investment is not the value of public capital," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1660, The World Bank.
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