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Tax Base Variability and Procyclical Fiscal Policy

  • Ernesto Talvi
  • Carlos A. Vegh

Based on a sample of 56 countries, we find that while fiscal policy in the G-7 countries appears to be broadly consistent with Barro's tax smoothing proposition, in developing countries government spending and taxes are highly procyclical (i.e., government spending rises and taxes fall during expansions, while the reverse is true in recessions). To explain this puzzle, we develop an optimal fiscal policy model in which running budget surpluses is costly because they create pressures to increase public spending. Given this distortion, a government that faces large (and perfectly anticipated) fluctuations in the tax base will find it optimal to run a procyclical fiscal policy. We argue that the differences in fiscal policy between the G-7 countries and developing countries can be traced back to the fact that the tax base is much more volatile in developing countries than in the G-7 countries.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7499.

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Date of creation: Jan 2000
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Publication status: published as Talvi, Ernesto and Carlos A. Vegh. "Tax Base Variability And Procyclical Fiscal Policy In Developing Countries," Journal of Development Economics, 2005, v78(1,Oct), 156-190.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7499
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  1. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
  2. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  3. Ernesto H. Stein & Ernesto Talvi & Alejandro Grisanti, 1998. "Institutional Arrangements and Fiscal Performance: The Latin American Experience," Research Department Publications 4110, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  4. Hercowitz, Z. & Strawczynski, M., 1999. "Cyclical Bias in Government Spending: Evidence from the OECD," Papers 6-99, Tel Aviv.
  5. Huang, Chao-Hsi & Lin, Kenneth S., 1993. "Deficits, government expenditures, and tax smoothing in the United States: 1929-1988," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 317-339, June.
  6. Andres Velasco, 1999. "A Model of Endogenous Fiscal Deficits and Delayed Fiscal Reforms," NBER Chapters, in: Fiscal Institutions and Fiscal Performance, pages 37-58 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Barro, Robert J., 1981. "Output Effects of Government Purchases," Scholarly Articles 3451294, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Calvo, Guillermo A & Guidotti, Pablo E, 1993. "On the Flexibility of Monetary Policy: The Case of the Optimal Inflation Tax," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(3), pages 667-87, July.
  9. Aizenman, Joshua & Hausmann, Ricardo, 2000. "The impact of inflation on budgetary discipline," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 425-449, December.
  10. Riccardo Fiorito, 1997. "Stylized Facts of Government Finance in the G-7," IMF Working Papers 97/142, International Monetary Fund.
  11. Persson, Mats & Persson, Torsten & Svensson, Lars E.O., 1997. "Debt, cash flow and inflation incentives: A Swedish example," Seminar Papers 613, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  12. International Monetary Fund, 1996. "Budget Processes and Commitment to Fiscal Discipline," IMF Working Papers 96/78, International Monetary Fund.
  13. Fiorito, Riccardo & Kollintzas, Tryphon, 1994. "Stylized facts of business cycles in the G7 from a real business cycles perspective," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 235-269, February.
  14. Alberto Alesina & Roberto Perotti, 1994. "The Political Economy of Budget Deficits," NBER Working Papers 4637, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Philip R. Lane & Aaron Tornell, 1999. "The Voracity Effect," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 22-46, March.
  16. Strazicich, Mark C., 1997. "Does Tax Smoothing Differ by the Level of Government? Time Series Evidence from Canada and the United States," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 305-326, April.
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