Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fiscal policy defined

Horton and El-Ganainy explain the basics of fiscal policy, a topic of much discussion in recent days especially relating to fiscal stimulus in almost all countries in the world. A very basic explanation that gives a taste of intro to macro econ, chapter one!

Fiscal policy is the use of government spending and taxation to influence the economy. Governments typically use fiscal policy to promote strong and sustainable growth and reduce poverty. The role and objectives of fiscal policy have gained prominence in the current crisis as governments have stepped in to support financial systems, jump-start growth, and mitigate the impact of the crisis on vulnerable groups. […] Fiscal policy that increases aggregate demand directly through an increase in government spending is typically called expansionary or “loose.” By contrast, fiscal policy is often considered contractionary or “tight” if it reduces demand via lower spending.

Besides providing goods and services, fiscal policy objectives vary. In the short term, governments may focus on macroeconomic stabilization—for example, stimulating an ailing economy, combating rising inflation, or helping reduce external vulnerabilities. In the longer term, the aim may be to foster sustainable growth or reduce poverty with actions on the supply side to improve infrastructure or education. Although these objectives are broadly shared across countries, their relative importance differs depending on country circumstances. In the short term, priorities may reflect the business cycle or response to a natural disaster—in the longer term, the drivers can be development levels, demographics, or resource endowments. The desire to reduce poverty might lead a low-income country to tilt spending toward primary health care, whereas in an advanced economy, pension reforms might target looming long-term costs related to an aging population. In an oil-producing country, fiscal policy might aim to moderate procyclical spending—moderating both bursts when oil prices rise and painful cuts when they drop.

Many countries can afford to run moderate fiscal deficits for extended periods, with domestic and international financial markets and international and bilateral partners convinced of their ability to meet present and future obligations. Deficits that grow too large and linger too long may, however, undermine that confidence. Aware of these risks in the present crisis, the IMF is calling on governments to establish a four-pronged fiscal policy strategy to help ensure solvency: stimulus should not have permanent effects on deficits; medium-term frameworks should include commitment to fiscal correction once conditions improve; structural reforms should be identified and implemented to enhance growth; and countries facing medium- and long-term demographic pressures should firmly commit to clear strategies for health care and pension reform.