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Fiscal rules, inertia and discretionary fiscal policy


  • Martin Larch
  • Matteo Salto


In current practice, changes in the cyclically-adjusted budget balance (CAB) are interpreted as reflecting the effort of discretionary fiscal policy. This paper shows that such an interpretation is not a sufficiently accurate description of the behaviour of fiscal policy, as, in some cases, it may conceal an important deficit bias. Specifically, as growth projections are an important building block of budgetary plans, systematic optimism in forecasting growth, coupled with pervasive lags and inertia in the implementation phase of the budget, will result in a fiscal expansion compared to plans, even in the absence of discretionary measures. In order to track down this kind of passive behaviour in the light of growth surprises or sanguine growth assumptions the traditional reading of the CAB needs to be adjusted. This is achieved by relaxing the benchmark assumption according to which, under unchanged fiscal policy, the deficit-to-GDP ratio is invariant to growth. An empirical application to public finance data of four large EU countries shows that passive behaviour is an important element in practice, as forecast errors are significant in explaining changes in the CAB. Moreover, in some cases official growth forecasts appear to have a clear upward bias.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Larch & Matteo Salto, 2005. "Fiscal rules, inertia and discretionary fiscal policy," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(10), pages 1135-1146.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:applec:v:37:y:2005:i:10:p:1135-1146
    DOI: 10.1080/00036840500109589

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    1. Luca Agnello & Jacopo Cimadomo, 2012. "Discretionary Fiscal Policies over the Cycle: New Evidence Based on the ESCB Disaggregated Approach," International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 8(2), pages 43-85, June.
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    3. Giuliodori, Massimo & Beetsma, Roel, 2008. "On the relationship between fiscal plans in the European Union: An empirical analysis based on real-time data," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 221-242, June.
    4. Jean-Paul Pollin & Jean-Luc Gaffard, 2013. "Pourquoi faut-il séparer les activités bancaires ?," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/1cud3763mom, Sciences Po.
    5. Forni, Lorenzo & Momigliano, Sandro, 2004. "Cyclical sensitivity of fiscal policies based on real-time data," MPRA Paper 4315, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Fabrizio Coricelli, 2005. "Design and Implementation of the Stability and Growth Pact: The Perspective of New Member States," CASE Network Studies and Analyses 0304, CASE-Center for Social and Economic Research.
    7. Bajo-Rubio, Oscar & Díaz-Roldán, Carmen & Esteve, Vicente, 2009. "Deficit sustainability and inflation in EMU: An analysis from the Fiscal Theory of the Price Level," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 25(4), pages 525-539, December.
    8. Marco Buti, 2006. "Will the new stability and growth pact succeed? An economic and political perspective," European Economy - Economic Papers 2008 - 2015 241, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
    9. Roberto Golinelli & Sandro Momigliano, 2006. "Real-time determinants of fiscal policies in the euro area: Fiscal rules, cyclical conditions and elections," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 609, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    10. F. Holm-Hadulla & S. Hauptmeier & P. Rother, 2012. "The impact of expenditure rules on budgetary discipline over the cycle," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(25), pages 3287-3296, September.
    11. Fabrizio BALASSONE & Maura FRANCESE, "undated". "Cyclical Asymmetry in Fiscal Policy, Debt Accumulation and the Treaty of Maastricht," EcoMod2004 330600014, EcoMod.
    12. Buti, M. & Eijffinger, S.C.W. & Franco, D., 2005. "The Stability pact Pains : A Forward-Looking Assessment of the Reform Debate," Discussion Paper 2005-101, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    13. Jasper Lukkezen & Hugo Rojas-Romagosa, 2013. "Stochastic debt sustainability indicators," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(1), pages 97-121.
    14. John Lewis, 2013. "Fiscal policy in Central and Eastern Europe with real time data: cyclicality, inertia and the role of EU accession," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(23), pages 3347-3359, August.
    15. Golinelli, Roberto & Momigliano, Sandro, 2006. "Real-time determinants of fiscal policies in the euro area," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 28(9), pages 943-964, December.
    16. Perugini, Cristiano & Žarković Rakić, Jelena & Vladisavljević, Marko, 2016. "Austerity and gender wage inequality in EU countries," MPRA Paper 76306, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Hideaki Tanaka, 2005. "Fiscal Rules and Targets and Public Expenditure Management: Enthusiasm in the 1990's and its Aftermath," Asia Pacific Economic Papers 346, Australia-Japan Research Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
    18. Alessandro Giosi & Silvia Testarmata & Sandro Brunelli & Bianca Staglianò, 2012. "Does the Quality of Public Finance Enhance Fiscal Discipline in the European Union? A Cross-Country Analysis," DSI Essays Series, DSI - Dipartimento di Studi sull'Impresa, vol. 21.
    19. J. Ayuso-i-Casals & S. Deroose & E. Flores & L. Moulin, 2007. "The role of fiscal rules and institutions in shaping budgetary outcomes," European Economy - Economic Papers 2008 - 2015 275, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.

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