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The automatic fiscal stabilizers: quietly doing their thing

  • Darrel Cohen
  • Glenn Follette

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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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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  1. Susanto Basu & Alan M. Taylor, 1999. "Business Cycles in International Historical Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(2), pages 45-68, Spring.
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  10. 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.
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  13. 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.
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  17. David L. Reifschneider & Robert J. 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.
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