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The Value of Constraints on Discretionary Government Policy

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  • Fernando Martin

    (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

Abstract

Societies design institutions to restrict the behavior of undisciplined governments, which often take the form of simple policy constraints: monetary policy targets, limits on the deficit and debt ceilings. I study their relative effectiveness in a dynamic stochastic model where fiscal and monetary policy are jointly determined. For a variety of aggregate shocks considered, the best policy is always to impose a minimum primary surplus. For an economy calibrated to the postwar US, the surplus should be about half a percent of output. Most welfare gains arise from constraining government behavior during normal times, which to a large extent is sufficient to discipline policy in adverse times. Monetary policy targets are not generally desirable as they hinder the ability of governments to smooth distortions. Allowing for the effective use of inflation to affect the real value of public debt is a critical component of good institutional design. Debt ceilings are benign, but always dominated by deficit constraints.

Suggested Citation

  • Fernando Martin, 2018. "The Value of Constraints on Discretionary Government Policy," 2018 Meeting Papers 267, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed018:267
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Juan Carlos Hatchondo & Leonardo Martinez & Francisco Roch, 2012. "Fiscal rules and the sovereign default premium," Working Paper 12-01, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    2. Martin, Fernando M., 2015. "Debt, inflation and central bank independence," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 129-150.
    3. Marina Halac & Pierre Yared, 2014. "Fiscal Rules and Discretion Under Persistent Shocks," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 82, pages 1557-1614, September.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Martin, Fernando M., 2011. "On the joint determination of fiscal and monetary policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 132-145, March.
    7. 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.
    8. Fernando M. Martin, 2013. "Government Policy In Monetary Economies," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 54(1), pages 185-217, February.
    9. Marco Battaglini, 2009. "On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," 2009 Meeting Papers 131, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    10. Ohanian, Lee E, 1997. "The Macroeconomic Effects of War Finance in the United States: World War II and the Korean War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 23-40, March.
    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.
    12. Martin Fernando M., 2012. "Government Policy Response to War-Expenditure Shocks," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-40, July.
    13. Fernando M. Martin & Christopher J. Waller, 2012. "Sovereign debt: a modern Greek tragedy," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Sep, pages 321-340.
    14. Lucas, Robert Jr. & Stokey, Nancy L., 1983. "Optimal fiscal and monetary policy in an economy without capital," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 55-93.
    15. Martin, Fernando M., 2010. "Markov-perfect capital and labor taxes," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 503-521, March.
    16. Levon Barseghyan & Marco Battaglini, 2012. "Growth and fiscal policy: a positive theory," Working Papers 1418, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Econometric Research Program..
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    Cited by:

    1. Leeper, Eric M. & Leith, Campbell & Liu, Ding, 2021. "Optimal Time-Consistent Monetary, Fiscal and Debt Maturity Policy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 600-617.
    2. Andolfatto, David & Martin, Fernando M., 2018. "Monetary policy and liquid government debt," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 183-199.
    3. Asatryan, Zareh & Castellón, César & Stratmann, Thomas, 2018. "Balanced budget rules and fiscal outcomes: Evidence from historical constitutions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 167(C), pages 105-119.
    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.

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    3. Fernando M. Martin, 2013. "Government Policy In Monetary Economies," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 54(1), pages 185-217, February.
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    More about this item

    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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