Tag: automatic stabilisers

Latest figures suggest that Japan could be entering a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession. In the second quarter of 2009, Japan managed to achieve a modest 0.9% growth after four quarters of contraction. Growth then accelerated to 1.2% in the third quarter. It now seems likely, however, that the fourth quarter could see a contraction of the economy again – or at best a slow-down in growth. Prices are falling as demand remains stagnant, and this deflation could encourage people to hold back from spending as they wait for prices to fall further.

As the British government announces planned spending cuts to tackle the rapidly mounting public-sector deficit and debt, so Japan has just announced a massive further fiscal stimulus of ¥7.2 trillion (£50 billion) or 1.5% of GDP. Although Japan’s public-sector deficit is no longer the highest of the G7 countries – 7.4% of GDP, compared with 12.6% for the UK, 11.4% for the USA and 8.2% for France (see OECD Economic Outlook November 2009, summary of projections – its debt, currently at 190% of GDP, is by far the highest of the G7 countries (this compares with 115% for Italy, 76% for France, 73% for Germany, 69% for the UK and 65% for the USA).

More than half of the fiscal stimulus will go on increases in government expenditure, especially on public works. However, much of the spending is in the form of a transfer to regional governments, which would otherwise be forced to make spending cuts because of falling tax revenues. So is the stimulus too much, too little, or of little relevance? Read the linked articles below, which consider the issues.

Japan growth estimate slashed Sydney Morning Herald (9/12/09)
Double dip could be taking shape for Japanese economy Market Watch, Lisa Twaronite (9/12/09)
Japan to boost recovery with giant stimulus plan Sydney Morning Herald, Kyoko Hasegawa (8/12/09)
Japan steps up stimulus spending Sydney Morning Herald (8/12/09)
Japan public debt to hit record this fiscal year AsiaOne News (Singapore) (8/12/09)
Japan govt unveils $81 bln economic stimulus Economic Times of India (8/12/09)
Japan’s economic growth figure lowered BBC News (9/12/09)
Japan agrees $81bn stimulus package BBC News (8/12/09)
Japan unveils $80bn of direct spending in $274bn stimulus package Telegraph (8/12/09)
It is Japan we should be worrying about, not America Telegraph (1/11/09)
Japan keeps pouring money into its ailing economy Times Online, Leo Lewis (9/12/09)
Japan’s Leader Promotes $81 Billion Stimulus Plan New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi (8/12/09)
Japan sets out $81bn stimulus plan Financial Times, Mure Dickie (8/12/09)
Fiscal challenges ahead The Asahi Shimbun (Japan) (8/12/09)
Bond jitters as Japan launches yet another stimulus plan Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (8/12/09)
New Stimulus Won’t Save Japan From Deflation, Soaring Deficit Money Morning, Jason Simpkins (8/12/09)

Questions

  1. Use the threshold concepts of stocks and flows to explain the difference between public-sector deficits and public-sector debt.
  2. Why might an economy go into a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession?
  3. For what reasons might this latest stimulus package be regarded as (a) too large and (b) too small to tackle Japan’s macroeconomic problems?
  4. Discuss the proposed policy of banning firms from hiring temporary workers.
  5. Why does deflation (in the sense of falling prices) create a problem for governments?
  6. What are the implications for the market for Japanese government bonds of the latest stimulus package?

In a recession, the government’s budget will go into cyclical deficit as tax revenue falls and government spending on unemployment and other benefits rises. Provided the deficit is purely cyclical, it can be seen as desirable since it acts as an automatic fiscal stabiliser, boosting aggregate demand and helping to pull the economy out of recession. Once the economy returns to potential national income (i.e. a zero output gap), the deficit would disappear. At potential national income (Yp), government expenditure (including benefits) will equal tax revenue. The budget is in balance.

Again, provided that the deficit is only cyclical, discretionary expansionary fiscal policy that further deepens the deficit will not be a problem for public finances in the future. Once the economy pulls out of recession, the discretionary policy can be relaxed and the higher national income will eliminate the cyclical deficit.

But the problem the Chancellor of the Exchequer faced in the Budget (on 22/4/09) was not just one of tackling the recession. The UK economy has seen a massive growth in the structural deficit. His forecast is for the total deficit to be £175bn in 2009. But, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, even when the recession is over and the output gap has been closed, there will still be an annual deficit of around £140bn. This is not cyclical; it’s structural.

So why is there this huge structural deficit? And what is the solution? Will the solution slow down recovery? The following articles look at the issues.

Budget 2009: Tightening the Squeeze? Institute for Fiscal Studies (23/4/09)
We should start by admitting we’ve failed as an economy: Hamish McRae Independent (22/4/09)
Budget 2009: Experts cast long shadow over Darling’s sunny outlook Guardian (23/4/09)
Budget 2009: Economist warns of spending cuts and tax rises Guardian (23/4/09)
The chancellor’s Budget dilemma: Stephanie Flanders BBC News (23/4/09)

For a global perspective on structural deficits, see:
Why the ‘green shoots’ of recovery could yet wither Financial Times (22/4/09)

Outlines of the main Budget measures can be found at:
Budget 2009: Need to know Times Online (23/4/09)
At-a-glance: Budget 2009 BBC News (22/4/09)

Full details for the Budget can be found from the Treasury’s Budget site

Questions

  1. Explain the terms ‘cyclical deficit’ and ‘structural deficit’.
  2. Draw a diagram showing how government expenditure (including benefits) and tax revenue vary with national income. The diagram should show the sitation with no structural deficit: i.e. the two lines should cross at potential national income. Illustrate (a) a cyclical deficit where actual national income is below potential national income (a negative output gap) and (b) a cyclical surplus where actual national income is above potential income (a positive output gap).
  3. Now, on the same diagram, shift the two lines to illustrate a situation of structural deficit.
  4. Consider whether the government should attempt to increase or reduce the budget deficit at a time of recession.
  5. Why has the structural deficit become so severe over the past year?
  6. How quickly should the government set about tackling the structural deficit?