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The Role for Discretionary Fiscal Policy in a Low Interest Rate Environment

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  • Martin Feldstein

Abstract

Although there is now widespread agreement in the economics profession that discretionary counter-cyclical'fiscal policy has not contributed to economic stability and may have actually been destabilizing at particular times in the past, there is one important condition when discretionary fiscal policy can play a constructive role: in a sustained downturn when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. This short note begins by summarizing the general case against using fiscal policy for stabilization. It next considers the argument for using a hyperexpansive' monetary policy to reduce the risk that a low rate of inflation will lead to a deflationary situation in which monetary policy becomes ineffective. Such a policy would increase the risk of asset price bubbles and of a misaligned exchange rate. Discretionary fiscal policy provides an alternative way to stimulate the economy when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. A stimulus can be achieved without increasing budget deficits if the fiscal policy acts by providing an incentive for increased private spending. Specific examples for the U.S. and Japan are considered.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein, 2002. "The Role for Discretionary Fiscal Policy in a Low Interest Rate Environment," NBER Working Papers 9203, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9203
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    1. Matthew B. Canzoneri & Robert E. Cumby & Behzad T. Diba, 2002. "Should the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve be concerned about fiscal policy?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 333-389.
    2. Martin S. Feldstein, 1999. "Capital Income Taxes and the Benefit of Price Stability," NBER Chapters, in: The Costs and Benefits of Price Stability, pages 9-46, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Alan J. Auerbach, 2002. "Is there a role for discretionary fiscal policy?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 109-150.
    4. Elmendorf, Douglas W. & Reifschneider, David L., 2002. "Short-Run Effects of Fiscal Policy With Forward-Looking Financial Markets," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 55(3), pages 357-386, September.
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