Automatic Stabilizers

Self-Check Questions

In a recession, does the actual budget surplus or deficit fall above or below the standardized employment budget?


It falls below because less tax revenue than expected is collected.

What is the main advantage of automatic stabilizers over discretionary fiscal policy?


Automatic stabilizers take effect very quickly, whereas discretionary policy can take a long time to implement.

Explain how automatic stabilizers work, both on the taxation side and on the spending side, first in a situation where the economy is producing less than potential GDP and then in a situation where the economy is producing more than potential GDP.


In a recession, because of the decline in economic output, less income is earned, and so less in taxes is automatically collected. Many welfare and unemployment programs are designed so that those who fall into certain categories, like “unemployed” or “low income,” are eligible for benefits. During a recession, more people fall into these categories and become eligible for benefits automatically. The combination of reduced taxes and higher spending is just what is needed for an economy in recession producing below potential GDP. With an economic boom, average income levels rise in the economy, so more in taxes is automatically collected. Fewer people meet the criteria for receiving government assistance to the unemployed or the needy, so government spending on unemployment assistance and welfare falls automatically. This combination of higher taxes and lower spending is just what is needed if an economy is producing above its potential GDP.