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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

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    1. Marina Halac & Pierre Yared, 2014. "Fiscal Rules and Discretion Under Persistent Shocks," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 82, pages 1557-1614, September.
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    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Marco Battaglini, 2009. "On the Case for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," 2009 Meeting Papers 131, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    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.

    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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