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Uncertainty and the effectiveness of fiscal policy


  • Vladimir Arčabić

    () (Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb)

  • James Peery Cover

    () (Department of Economics, Finance, & Legal Studies, University of Alabama)


During the Great Recession of 2007-2009 uncertainty in the United States reached historically high levels. This paper analyzes the effectiveness of fiscal policy under different uncertainty regimes in the U.S. High uncertainty is known to make economic agents postpone their decisions on consumption and investment (real-options channel), making economic policy less effective. We use several uncertainty measures in a threshold vector autoregressive model (TVAR) to endogenously estimate different uncertainty regimes. Then we analyze the effectiveness of different fiscal policy shocks in each uncertainty regime. We measure uncertainty using S&P 100 volatility index (VXO) and Baa corporate bond yield relative to yield on 10-year treasury constant maturity (Baa10ym). Our benchmark model consists of aggregate government spending, taxes, uncertainty, and GDP. In addition to the benchmark model, we estimate three extensions. First, we differentiate between government consumption, investment, and defense expenditures. Second, we check the robustness using two different measures of uncertainty – VXO and Baa10ym. Third, we compute impulse responses of GDP aggregates: consumption and investment. Nonlinear impulse response functions differentiate between positive and negative fiscal shocks, as well as between small and big fiscal shocks. Confidence intervals are obtained by bootstrapping in order to determine the statistical significance of impulse responses. This paper has five important findings. (1) We find that fiscal policy shocks have a much larger effect on the economy during periods of high uncertainty. (2) We also find that during periods of average or low uncertainty government spending shocks tend to crowd out private sector investment spending, but during periods of high uncertainty, after a one-year delay, government spending shocks “crowd-in” private sector investment expenditures. (3) We find large shocks typically do not have the same dollar for dollar effect on GDP as small shocks. That is, 2SD shocks tend to have only a 33-50% larger effect than 1SD shocks. (4) We find that expansionary tax shocks are not as powerful as contractionary tax shocks. And finally and perhaps most importantly (5) we find that government investment spending shocks are far more potent that government consumption and government defense spending shocks. This last result suggests that infrastructure investment expenditures are a much better way to stimulate the economy than other types of government spending.

Suggested Citation

  • Vladimir Arčabić & James Peery Cover, 2016. "Uncertainty and the effectiveness of fiscal policy," EFZG Working Papers Series 1611, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb.
  • Handle: RePEc:zag:wpaper:1611

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Riera-Crichton, Daniel & Vegh, Carlos A. & Vuletin, Guillermo, 2015. "Procyclical and countercyclical fiscal multipliers: Evidence from OECD countries," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 15-31.
    2. Giuseppe Bertola & Luigi Guiso & Luigi Pistaferri, 2005. "Uncertainty and Consumer Durables Adjustment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 72(4), pages 973-1007.
    3. Alan J. Auerbach & Yuriy Gorodnichenko, 2012. "Fiscal Multipliers in Recession and Expansion," NBER Chapters,in: Fiscal Policy after the Financial Crisis, pages 63-98 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Valerie A. Ramey & Matthew D. Shapiro, 2001. "Displaced Capital: A Study of Aerospace Plant Closings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(5), pages 958-992, October.
    5. repec:ucp:jpolec:doi:10.1086/696277 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Olivier Blanchard & Roberto Perotti, 2002. "An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1329-1368.
    7. Valerie A. Ramey & Sarah Zubairy, 2018. "Government Spending Multipliers in Good Times and in Bad: Evidence from US Historical Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 126(2), pages 850-901.
    8. James Peery Cover & Hye-Jin Lee, 2015. "Do market prices aggregate information about macroeconomic uncertainty (or risk)?," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(42), pages 4511-4534, September.
    9. Russell W. Cooper & John C. Haltiwanger, 2006. "On the Nature of Capital Adjustment Costs," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 73(3), pages 611-633.
    10. James Peery Cover, 2011. "Risk and Macroeconomic Activity," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 78(1), pages 149-166, July.
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    More about this item


    uncertainty; fiscal policy; threshold; VAR model;

    JEL classification:

    • C32 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Time-Series Models; Dynamic Quantile Regressions; Dynamic Treatment Effect Models; Diffusion Processes; State Space Models
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General

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