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How to Starve the Beast: Fiscal Policy Rules

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  • Fernando M. Martin

Abstract

Countries have widely imposed fiscal rules designed to constrain government spending and ensure fiscal responsibility. This paper studies the effectiveness and welfare implications of revenue, deficit and debt rules when governments are discretionary and profligate. The optimal prescription is a revenue ceiling coupled with a balance budget requirement. For the U.S., the optimal revenue ceiling is about 15% of output, 3 percentage points below the postwar average. Most of the benefits can still be reaped with a milder constraint or escape clauses during adverse times. Imposing a single fiscal rule allows governments to comply without necessarily curbing spending; on their own, revenue ceilings are only mildly effective, while deficit and debt rules are altogether ineffective.

Suggested Citation

  • Fernando M. Martin, 2019. "How to Starve the Beast: Fiscal Policy Rules," Working Papers 2019-026, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, revised 14 Oct 2020.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2019-026
    DOI: 10.20955/wp.2019.026
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Clemens Fuest & Florian Neumeier & Daniel Stöhlker, 2019. "Tax Cuts Starve the Beast! Evidence from Germany," CESifo Working Paper Series 8009, CESifo.
    2. Henning Bohn, "undated". "Budget Balance Through Revenue or Spending Adjustments ? Some Historical Evidence for the United States (Reprint 013)," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 03-91, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
    3. Mishkin, Frederic S., 1998. "International Experiences With Different Monetary Policy Regimes," Seminar Papers 648, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
    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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Stöhlker, Daniel & Neumeier, Florian & Fuest, Clemens, 2018. "Tax Cuts Starve the Beast! Evidence from Germany," VfS Annual Conference 2018 (Freiburg, Breisgau): Digital Economy 181592, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    8. 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.
    9. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 763-801, June.
    10. Bohn, Henning, 1991. "Budget balance through revenue or spending adjustments? : Some historical evidence for the United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 333-359, June.
    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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Fernando M. Martin, 2020. "Fiscal Dominance," Working Papers 2020-040, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    time-consistency; fiscal rules; discretion; government debt; deficit; institutional design; political frictions; austerity; debt sustainability;

    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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