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
- Explain the terms ‘cyclical deficit’ and ‘structural deficit’.
- 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).
- Now, on the same diagram, shift the two lines to illustrate a situation of structural deficit.
- Consider whether the government should attempt to increase or reduce the budget deficit at a time of recession.
- Why has the structural deficit become so severe over the past year?
- How quickly should the government set about tackling the structural deficit?
On 7 April, Brian Lenihan, Ireland’s Finance Minister, introduced an emergency Budget. He forecast that Irish real GDP would decline by some 8 per cent in 2009, that consumer prices would fall by 4 per cent (i.e. substantial negative inflation) and that unemployment, already at 11 per cent, would rise further. So what was his solution? Was it a massive fiscal stimulus to boost aggregate demand and turn the economy around? No: it was precisely the opposite. He announced substantial tax increases and cuts in government expenditure? Was this economic madness, or was there economic sense in the measures? The following articles explore the arguments.
Ireland’s shock therapy has got its merits Independent (9/4/09)
Ireland Faces ‘Challenge of Its Life’ BusinessWeek (8/4/09)
Few crumbs of comfort as incomes take severe hammering Irishtimes.com (10/4/09)
Republic’s Budget cuts ‘for the common good’ Belfast Telegraph (8/4/09)
Ireland unveils budget ‘challenge’ Financial Times (8/4/09)
Ireland unveils emergency budget BBC News (7/4/09)
When fiscal stimulus isn’t stimulating: Stephanie Flanders blog BBC News (7/4/09)
Ireland imposes emergency cuts Telegraph (8/4/09)
- Consider the arguments for and against the fiscal tightening measures adopted by the Irish government.
- Should the UK government also adopt a tighter fiscal stance?
- How important is investor confidence in determining the success of a Budget?
In the face of a Labour backbench rebellion over the abolition of the 10p tax rate in the most recent Budget, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, introduced what has been described as a mini-budget this month. In this mini-budget he significantly increased tax allowances to try to alleviate the impact of the removal of the 10p tax rate on some of the poorest families.
Darling’s solution could prove costly, say economists Guardian (14/5/08)
FAQ: Formula that bought off the Labour rebels Guardian (14/5/08)
Brown risks £2.7bn tax cut to end revolt Guardian (14/5/08)
Mini-budget will put money in pockets of 22 million voters Guardian (13/5/08)
Darling’s statement in full Guardian (13/5/08)
Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights Chancellor’s dilemma after emergency tax cut Times Online (21/5/08)
Q&A on the Government’s ‘Golden Rule’ Times Online (15/5/08)
Basic rate taxpayers to get £120 BBC News Online (13/5/08)
Q&A: Tax changes BBC News Online (13/5/08)
Full statement: Tax changes BBC News Online (13/5/08)
||What was the effect of the abolition of the10p tax rate on income distribution (before the min-budget measures)?
||Assess the extent to which these changes will alleviate the impact of removing the 10p tax rate on the poorest families.
||Discuss the likely impact of this change in the government’s fiscal stance on the main UK macroeconomic targets.
The Budget 2008 was quite an under-stated affair, but was the first delivered by Alistair Darling as Chancellor. As ever, many of the changes had been announced well in advance, reducing the element of surprise. But the Budget remains an important event. Note that the Budget websites can also be useful reference sources for economic policy changes.
Budget 2008 Guardian Budget Special
Interactive: Budget 2008 Guardian (11/03/08)
What to tell us on Budget day: where our money is going and how it can be stopped Guardian (10/03/08)
Budget 2008 BBC News Online Budget Special
Videos and podcasts
Old Mother Hubbard Guardian (13/03/08)
Budget speech in full (Video) BBC News Online (12/03/08)
For details of the Budget measures, you may want to look at:
Budget 2008 HM Treasury Budget pages HM Treasury Budget microsite HM Treasury (March 08)
||What are the key changes in the Budget? What effects are they likely to have on the economy?
||Assess the extent to which this Budget can be considered a ‘Green Budget’.
||How has the Budget changed the overall fiscal position of the government?
||Discuss the likely impact of the Budget on small and large businesses.