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Debt and the effects of fiscal policy

  • Carlo Favero
  • Francesco Giavazzi

A fiscal shock due to a shift in taxes or in government spending will, at some point in time, constrain the future path of taxes and spending, since the government’s intertemporal budget constraint will eventually have to be met. This simple fact is surprisingly overlooked in analyses of the effects of fiscal policy based on vector autoregressive models. We study the effects of fiscal shocks, keeping track of the debt dynamics that arise following a fiscal shock and allowing for the possibility that taxes, spending, and interest rates might respond to the level of the debt as it evolves over time. We show that the absence of a debt feedback effect can result in incorrect estimates of the dynamic effects of fiscal shocks. In particular, omitting an effect of fiscal shocks on long-term interest rates—a frequent finding in studies that omit a debt feedback—can be explained by the misspecification of these fiscal shocks. Using data for the U.S. economy and two alternative identification assumptions, we reconsider the effects of fiscal policy shocks, correcting for these shortcomings. We close the paper by observing that the methodology described by taking into account the stock-flow relationship between debt and fiscal variables to analyze the impact of fiscal shocks could also be applied to other dynamic models that include similar identities. The inclusion of capital as a slow-moving variable in the study of the relationship between productivity shocks and hours worked is one example.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Working Papers with number 07-4.

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Date of creation: 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:07-4
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  1. V. V. Chari & Patrick J. Kehoe & Ellen R. McGrattan, 2008. "Are Structural VARs with Long-Run Restrictions Useful in Developing Business Cycle Theory?," NBER Working Papers 14430, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Fatás, Antonio & Mihov, Ilian, 2001. "The Effects of Fiscal Policy on Consumption and Employment: Theory and Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 2760, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Romer, Christina D. & Romer, David H., 1989. "Does Monetary Policy Matter? A New Test in the Spirit of Friedman and Schwartz," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt5h07k8vf, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  4. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Jonas Fisher, 2003. "Fiscal Shocks and Their Consequences," NBER Working Papers 9772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Valerie A. Ramey, 2009. "Identifying Government Spending Shocks: It's All in the Timing," NBER Working Papers 15464, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Fabio C. Bagliano & Carlo A. Favero, . "Information from financial markets and VAR measures of monetary policy," Working Papers 135, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  7. Francesco Giavazzi & Tullio Jappelli & Marco Pagano, 2000. "Searching for Non-Linear Effects of Fiscal Policy: Evidence from Industrial and Developing Countries," NBER Working Papers 7460, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Wendy Edelberg & Martin Eichenbaum & Jonas D.M. Fisher, 1999. "Understanding the Effects of a Shock to Government Purchases," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(1), pages 166-206, January.
  9. Roberto Perotti, 2007. "In Search of the Transmission Mechanism of Fiscal Policy," NBER Working Papers 13143, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Henning Bohn, 1998. "The Behavior of U. S. Public Debt and Deficits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 949-963.
  11. Olivier Blanchard & Roberto Perotti, 2002. "An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1329-1368.
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