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Myths and Facts about Fiscal Discretion: A New Measure of Discretionary Expenditure

In this paper we suggest a new measure of discretionary government spending for OECD countries over the period 1980-2011. To identify the components of discretionary expenditure, we use the volatility and persistence properties of the expenditure series. Discretionary policy cannot be inertial and should be free from prior obligations. Commonly used measures of discretionary fiscal policy do not satisfy these two criteria. We find that discretionary expenditure accounts on average for about 30 per cent of total primary expenditure, suggesting that most government spending is driven by inertial and automatic components. These features help explain why government expenditure is generally not counter-cyclical even is advanced economies. Furthermore, the small share of discretionary expenditure over total expenditure significantly reduces the room of manoeuvre for counter-cyclical fiscal policy during recessions.

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Paper provided by Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne in its series Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne with number 13033.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mse:cesdoc:13033
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  1. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2007. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," NBER Working Papers 13264, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. António Afonso & Luca Agnello & Davide Furceri, 2010. "Fiscal policy responsiveness, persistence, and discretion," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 145(3), pages 503-530, December.
  3. Fatás, Antonio & Mihov, Ilian, 2002. "The Case for Restricting Fiscal Policy Discretion," CEPR Discussion Papers 3277, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Nathalie Girouard & Christophe André, 2005. "Measuring Cyclically-adjusted Budget Balances for OECD Countries," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 434, OECD Publishing.
  5. Levy-Yeyati, Eduardo & Sturzenegger, Federico, 2005. "Classifying exchange rate regimes: Deeds vs. words," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(6), pages 1603-1635, August.
  6. Philip R. Lane, 2002. "The Cyclical Behaviour of Fiscal Policy: Evidence from the OECD," Trinity Economics Papers 20022, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
  7. Riccardo Fiorito, 1997. "Stylized Facts of Government Finance in the G-7," IMF Working Papers 97/142, International Monetary Fund.
  8. Willem Adema & Pauline Fron & Maxime Ladaique, 2011. "Is the European Welfare State Really More Expensive?: Indicators on Social Spending, 1980-2012; and a Manual to the OECD Social Expenditure Database (SOCX)," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 124, OECD Publishing.
  9. Martin Larch & Alessandro Turrini, 2009. "The cyclically-adjusted budget balance in EU fiscal policy making : A love at first sight turned into a mature relationship," European Economy - Economic Papers 374, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
  10. Olivier Jean Blanchard, 1990. "Suggestions for a New Set of Fiscal Indicators," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 79, OECD Publishing.
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