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Taxes, Budget Deficits ad Consumer Spending: Some New Evidence

Listed author(s):
  • Martin Feldstein
  • Douglas W. Elmendorf

Because of the restrictive assumptions required to establish the theory of Ricardian equivalence, its relevance in practice is essentially an empirical question. The strongest direct evidence in favor of Ricardian equivalence is Roger Kormendi's (1983) article in the American Economic Review. That paper appeared to provide strong empirical support for Ricardian equivalence by showing that increases in government spending on goods and services depress consumer spending while changes in tax receipts have no effect on consumer spending. The present study shows that Kormendi's results are a misleading implication of the experience during World War I1 when shortages, rationing and patriotic appeals to self-restraint caused an abnormally high rate of saving at the same time that the government deficit-financed a uniquely massive increase in defense spending. When those years are excluded from the sample, Kormendi's results are reversed. The estimates presented here show that in the equation specified by Kormendi, but with the years 1941 through 1946 excluded, increases in tax receipts have had a substantial negative effect on consumption while increases in government spending on goods and services have had essentially no effect on consumption. This evidence is exactly the opposite of the implications of Ricardian equivalence. This conclusion is robust with respect to a variety of modifications in the way that the basic equation is estimated: using an AR1 correction to deal with serial correlation; limiting the analysis to the Federal government's fiscal variables; respecifying the variables as ratios to net national product to reduce collinearity; estimating for the most recent 35 years instead of for the period since 1931; and using an instrumental variable procedure to reduce the problem of endogeneity. In each of these specifications, the results indicate that taxes depress consumer spending while government outlays on goods and services have either a smaller or a totally insignificant effect.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2355.

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Date of creation: Aug 1987
Publication status: published as "Government Debt, Government Spending, and Private Sector Behavior Revisited: Comment." From The American Economic Review, Vol. 80, No. 3,pp. 589-599, (June 1990).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2355
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  1. Butkiewicz, James L., 1983. "The market value of outstanding government debt : Comment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 373-379.
  2. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
  3. Modigliani, Franco & Sterling, Arlie, 1986. "Government Debt, Government Spending and Private Sector Behavior: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1168-1179, December.
  4. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1987. "Ricardian Equivalence: An Evaluation of Theory and Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1987, Volume 2, pages 263-316 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Feldstein, Martin, 1982. "Government deficits and aggregate demand," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 1-20.
  6. Michael R. Darby & Robert Gillingham & John S. Greenlees, 1991. "The Impact Of Government Deficits On Personal And National Saving Rates," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 9(4), pages 39-55, October.
  7. Barth, James R & Iden, George & Russek, Frank S, 1986. "Government Debt, Government Spending, and Private Sector Behavior: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1158-1167, December.
  8. Martin S. Feldstein, 1986. "The Budget Deficit and the Dollar," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1986, Volume 1, pages 355-409 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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