The Role for Discretionary Fiscal Policy in a Low Interest Rate Environment

Martin Feldstein

NBER Working Paper No. 9203
Issued in September 2002
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program, Monetary Economics Program, Public Economics Program

Although there is now widespread agreement in the economics profession that discretionary counter-cyclical'fiscal policy has not contributed to economic stability and may have actually been destabilizing at particular times in the past, there is one important condition when discretionary fiscal policy can play a constructive role: in a sustained downturn when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. This short note begins by summarizing the general case against using fiscal policy for stabilization. It next considers the argument for using a hyperexpansive' monetary policy to reduce the risk that a low rate of inflation will lead to a deflationary situation in which monetary policy becomes ineffective. Such a policy would increase the risk of asset price bubbles and of a misaligned exchange rate. Discretionary fiscal policy provides an alternative way to stimulate the economy when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. A stimulus can be achieved without increasing budget deficits if the fiscal policy acts by providing an incentive for increased private spending. Specific examples for the U.S. and Japan are considered.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9203

Published: Martin Feldstein, 2002. "Commentary : Is there a role for discretionary fiscal policy?," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 151-162.

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