In order to learn and understand fiscal policy or monetary policy it is important to whether an economy, no matter where it may be in the world, can self regulate, or whether it needs an outside influence in order to adjust. This is where Classical and Keynesian economics will come into play. If you are of the Keynesian school of thought, you believe that the economy needs your influence in order to correct itself. This correction can be in the form of fiscal policy.
Fiscal policy can be defined as government’s actions to influence an economy through the use of taxation and spending. This type of policy is used when policy-makers believe the economy needs outside help in order to adjust to a desired point. Typically a government has a desire to maintain steady prices, an employment level, and a growing economy. If any of these areas are out of sorts, some type of fiscal policy may be in order.
Fiscal policy can be used in order to either stimulate a sluggish economy or to slow down an economy that is growing at a rate that is getting out of control (which can lead to inflation or asset bubbles). Fiscal policy directly affects the aggregate demand of an economy. Recall that aggregate demand is the total number of final goods and services in an economy, which include consumption, investment, government spending, and net exports.
Aggregate Demand = Consumption + Investment + Govt Spending + Net Exports
Fiscal policy has an effect on each of these categories. There are two types of fiscal policy: Expansionary and Contractionary.
Expansionary Fiscal Policy
When an economy is in a recession, expansionary fiscal policy is in order. Typically this type of fiscal policy results in increased government spending and/or lower taxes. A recession results in a recessionary gap – meaning that aggregate demand (ie, GDP) is at a level lower than it would be in a full employment situation. In order to close this gap, a government will typically increase their spending which will directly increase the aggregate demand curve (since government spending creates demand for goods and services). At the same time, the government may choose to cut taxes, which will indirectly affect the aggregate demand curve by allowing for consumers to have more money at their disposal to consume and invest. The actions of this expansionary fiscal policy would result in a shift of the aggregate demand curve to the right, which would result closing the recessionary gap and helping an economy grow.
Contractionary Fiscal Policy
Contractionary fiscal policy is essentially the opposite of expansionary fiscal policy. When an economy is in a state where growth is at a rate that is getting out of control (causing inflation and asset bubbles), contractionary fiscal policy can be used to rein it in to a more sustainable level. If an economy is growing too fast or for example, if unemployment is too low, an inflationary gap will form. In order to eliminate this inflationary gap a government may reduce government spending and increase taxes. A decrease in spending by the government will directly decrease aggregate demand curve by reducing government demand for goods and services. Increases in tax levels will also slow growth, as consumers will have less money to consume and invest, thereby indirectly reducing the aggregate demand curve.
Fiscal Policy Summary
To summarize, fiscal policy is a type of economical intervention where the government injects its policies into an economy in order to either expand the economy’s growth or to contract it. By changing the levels of spending and taxation, a government can directly or indirectly affect the aggregate demand, which is the total amount of goods and services in an economy.
One thing to remember concerning fiscal policy is that a recession is generally defined as a time period of at least two quarters of consecutive reduction in growth. It may take time to even recognize whether or not there is a recession. With fiscal policy, there will be certain levels of lag time in which conditions will deteriorate before being recognized. At the same time, fiscal policy takes time to implement due to legislative and administrative processes, and those same policies will take time to show results after implementation.
Consumers can also react to these policies positively or negatively. Most consumers would have a positive reaction per say to a policy that lowers taxes, while some will have an issue with a government spending more which will increase the burden of debt on nations citizens.
Nevertheless, fiscal policy is a type of intervention that can help to control the direction of an economy. Deciding if and when it should be used will certainly continue to be debated.
by Aaron Forsythe, 2012