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The Value of Constraints on Discretionary Government Policy

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  • Fernando M. Martin

Abstract

This paper investigates how institutional constraints discipline the behavior of discretionary governments subject to an expenditure bias. The focus is on constraints implemented in actual economies: monetary policy targets, limits on the deficit and debt ceilings. For a variety of aggregate shocks considered, the best policy is to impose a minimum primary surplus of about half a percent of output. Most welfare gains from constraining government behavior during normal times, which to a large extent is sufficient to discipline policy in adverse times. Monetary policy targets are not generally desirable as they hinder the ability of governments to smooth distortions. Allowing for the effective use of inflation during transitions is a key component of good institutional design. Debt ceilings are benign, but always dominated by deficit constraints. More pre-commitment to government actions is ineffective in curbing inefficiently high public expenditure.

Suggested Citation

  • Fernando M. Martin, 2016. "The Value of Constraints on Discretionary Government Policy," Working Papers 2016-19, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2016-019
    DOI: 10.20955/wp.2016.019
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.20955/wp.2016.019
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Juan Carlos Hatchondo & Leonardo Martinez & Francisco Roch, 2012. "Fiscal rules and the sovereign default premium," Working Paper 12-01, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    2. Martin, Fernando M., 2015. "Debt, inflation and central bank independence," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 129-150.
    3. Marina Halac & Pierre Yared, 2014. "Fiscal Rules and Discretion Under Persistent Shocks," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 82, pages 1557-1614, September.
    4. Robert J. Barro & David B. Gordon, 2019. "A Positive Theory of Monetary Policy in a Natural Rate Model," Credit and Capital Markets, Credit and Capital Markets, vol. 52(4), pages 505-525.
    5. Fernando Martin, 2009. "A Positive Theory of Government Debt," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(4), pages 608-631, October.
    6. Martin, Fernando M., 2011. "On the joint determination of fiscal and monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 132-145, March.
    7. Ricardo Lagos & Randall Wright, 2005. "A Unified Framework for Monetary Theory and Policy Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(3), pages 463-484, June.
    8. Fernando M. Martin, 2013. "Government Policy In Monetary Economies," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 54(1), pages 185-217, February.
    9. Marco Battaglini, 2009. "On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," 2009 Meeting Papers 131, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    10. Ohanian, Lee E, 1997. "The Macroeconomic Effects of War Finance in the United States: World War II and the Korean War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 23-40, March.
    11. Williamson, Stephen & Wright, Randall, 2010. "New Monetarist Economics: Models," Handbook of Monetary Economics, in: Benjamin M. Friedman & Michael Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Monetary Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 2, pages 25-96, Elsevier.
    12. Martin Fernando M., 2012. "Government Policy Response to War-Expenditure Shocks," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-40, July.
    13. Fernando M. Martin & Christopher J. Waller, 2012. "Sovereign debt: a modern Greek tragedy," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Sep, pages 321-340.
    14. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
    15. Martin, Fernando M., 2010. "Markov-perfect capital and labor taxes," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 503-521, March.
    16. Levon Barseghyan & Marco Battaglini, 2012. "Growth and fiscal policy: a positive theory," Working Papers 1418, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Econometric Research Program..
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    Cited by:

    1. Andolfatto, David & Martin, Fernando M., 2018. "Monetary policy and liquid government debt," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 183-199.
    2. Asatryan, Zareh & Castellón, César & Stratmann, Thomas, 2018. "Balanced budget rules and fiscal outcomes: Evidence from historical constitutions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 167(C), pages 105-119.
    3. Eric M Leeper & Campbell Leith & Ding Liu, 2016. "Optimal Time-Consistent Monetary, Fiscal and Debt Maturity Policy," Working Papers 2016_04, Business School - Economics, University of Glasgow.
    4. Azzimonti, Marina & Battaglini, Marco & Coate, Stephen, 2016. "The costs and benefits of balanced budget rules: Lessons from a political economy model of fiscal policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 45-61.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    time-consistency; discretion; government debt; inflation; deficit; fiscal constraints; inflation targeting; institutional design; political frictions.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy

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