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Public Investment under Fiscal Constraints


  • Emanuele Bacchiocchi
  • Elisa Borghi
  • Alessandro Missale


EU New Member States must comply with the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and the investment requirements implied by the Lisbon Agenda. However, the SGP rules may result in underinvestment or distortions in the allocation of public expenditure. This paper provides new evidence on the effects of debt sustainability and SGP fiscal constraints on government expenditure in fixed capital, education and health in OECD countries by estimating government expenditure reaction functions to public debt and cyclical conditions. We find that, at high levels of debt, government capital expenditure and education expenditure are significantly reduced as the debt ratio increases in all OECD countries independently of EMU (or EU) membership. By contrast neither capital expenditure nor education expenditure is affected by the debt ratio in low debt countries. These findings are robust to the inclusion of the government deficit in the estimated reaction functions. Hence, it appears that EU countries have been constrained in their investment decisions more by the need to ensure debt sustainability than by the rules of the SGP. In low debt NMS countries public investment even increases with the debt ratio, a finding that is reassuring for their growth prospects. However, a less optimistic picture emerges when we focus on expenditures in public health and education, as it appears that NMS governments cut such expenditures --even at low levels of debt-- as the deficit increases. Problems in controlling total expenditure together with the preventive arm of the SGP may have penalized investment in human capital in NMSs while leaving fixed capital investment unaffected.
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Suggested Citation

  • Emanuele Bacchiocchi & Elisa Borghi & Alessandro Missale, 2011. "Public Investment under Fiscal Constraints," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 32(1), pages 11-42, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:fistud:v:32:y:2011:i::p:11-42 DOI: j.1475-5890.2011.00126.x

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    4. Óscar Afonso & Rui Henrique Alves, 2006. "“To Deficit or Not to Deficit”: Should European Fiscal Rules Differ Among Countries?," FEP Working Papers 219, Universidade do Porto, Faculdade de Economia do Porto.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:zbw:rwirep:0557 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Barry Eichengreen & Ugo Panizza, 2016. "A surplus of ambition: can Europe rely on large primary surpluses to solve its debt problem?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 31(85), pages 5-49.
    3. Philipp Jäger & Torsten Schmidt, 2015. "The Political Economy of Public Investment when Population is Aging – A Panel Cointegration Analysis," Ruhr Economic Papers 0557, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
    4. Jäger, Philipp & Schmidt, Torsten, 2016. "The political economy of public investment when population is aging: A panel cointegration analysis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 145-158.
    5. Nicholas Crafts, 2013. "Long-Term Growth in Europe: What Difference does the Crisis Make?," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 224(1), pages 14-28, May.
    6. Bertola, Giuseppe, 2010. "Fiscal Policy and Labor Markets at Times of Public Debt," CEPR Discussion Papers 8037, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Douglas Sutherland & Peter Hoeller & Rossana Merola, 2012. "Fiscal Consolidation: Part 1. How Much is Needed and How to Reduce Debt to a Prudent Level?," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 932, OECD Publishing.
    8. Chiara Del Bo & Massimo Florio & Silvia Vignetti & Emanuela Sirtori, 2011. "Additionality and regional development: are EU Structural Funds complements or substitutes of national Public Finance?," Working Papers 201101, CSIL Centre for Industrial Studies.
    9. Ugo Panizza, 2014. "Public Debt Risks in Italy Myths, Facts, and Policies," IHEID Working Papers 13-2014, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies, revised 12 Feb 2014.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H54 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Infrastructures
    • H63 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Debt; Debt Management; Sovereign Debt


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