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Do Tax Cuts Starve the Beast? The Effect of Tax Changes on Government Spending

  • Christina D. Romer
  • David H. Romer

The hypothesis that decreases in taxes reduce future government spending is often cited as a reason for cutting taxes. However, because taxes change for many reasons, examinations of the relationship between overall measures of taxation and subsequent spending are plagued by problems of reverse causation and omitted variable bias. To deal with these problems, this paper examines the behavior of government expenditures following legislated tax changes that narrative sources suggest are largely uncorrelated with other factors affecting spending. The results provide no support for the hypothesis that tax cuts restrain government spending; indeed, they suggest that tax cuts may actually increase spending. The results also indicate that the main effect of tax cuts on the government budget is to induce subsequent legislated tax increases. Examination of four episodes of major tax cuts reinforces these conclusions.

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Article provided by Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution in its journal Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Volume (Year): 40 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (Spring) ()
Pages: 139-214

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Handle: RePEc:bin:bpeajo:v:40:y:2009:i:2009-01:p:139-214
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  1. Becker, Gary S & Mulligan, Casey B, 2003. "Deadweight Costs and the Size of Government," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(2), pages 293-340, October.
  2. Henning Bohn, . "Budget Balance Through Revenue or Spending Adjustments ? Some Historical Evidence for the United States (Reprint 013)," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 3-91, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  3. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 763-801, June.
  4. Valerie A. Ramey & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1999. "Costly Capital Reallocation and the Effects of Government Spending," NBER Working Papers 6283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Alan J. Auerbach, 2000. "Formation of fiscal policy: the experience of the past twenty-five years," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Apr, pages 9-23.
  6. Bohn, Henning, 1991. "Budget balance through revenue or spending adjustments? : Some historical evidence for the United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 333-359, June.
  7. Valerie A. Ramey, 2009. "Identifying Government Spending Shocks: It's All in the Timing," NBER Working Papers 15464, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Alan J. Auerbach, 2003. "Fiscal Policy, Past and Present," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(1), pages 75-138.
  9. Olivier Blanchard & Roberto Perotti, 1999. "An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output," NBER Working Papers 7269, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. von Furstenberg, George M & Green, R Jeffrey & Jeong, Jin-Ho, 1986. "Tax and Spend, or Spend and Tax?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 68(2), pages 179-88, May.
  11. Niskanen, William A., 1978. "Deficits, government spending, and inflation : What is the evidence?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 591-602, August.
  12. Bohn, Henning, 1992. "Endogenous Government Spending and Ricardian Equivalence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(412), pages 588-97, May.
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