Practical Problems with Discretionary Fiscal Policy

Fiscal Policy and Interest Rates

Because fiscal policy affects the quantity that the government borrows in financial capital markets, it not only affects aggregate demand—it can also affect interest rates. In Figure, the original equilibrium (E0) in the financial capital market occurs at a quantity of $800 billion and an interest rate of 6%. However, an increase in government budget deficits shifts the demand for financial capital from D0 to D1. The new equilibrium (E1) occurs at a quantity of $900 billion and an interest rate of 7%.

A consensus estimate based on a number of studies is that an increase in budget deficits (or a fall in budget surplus) by 1% of GDP will cause an increase of 0.5–1.0% in the long-term interest rate.

The graph shows two demand curves that each intersect with a supply curve. Demand curve (D sub 0) intersects with supply curve (S) at E sub 0 (point $800, 6%). Demand curve (D sub 1) intersects with supply curve (S) at E sub 1 (point $900, 7%).
Fiscal Policy and Interest Rates When a government borrows money in the financial capital market, it causes a shift in the demand for financial capital from D0 to D1. As the equilibrium moves from E0 to E1, the equilibrium interest rate rises from 6% to 7% in this example. In this way, an expansionary fiscal policy intended to shift aggregate demand to the right can also lead to a higher interest rate, which has the effect of shifting aggregate demand back to the left.

A problem arises here. An expansionary fiscal policy, with tax cuts or spending increases, is intended to increase aggregate demand. If an expansionary fiscal policy also causes higher interest rates, then firms and households are discouraged from borrowing and spending (as occurs with tight monetary policy), thus reducing aggregate demand. Even if the direct effect of expansionary fiscal policy on increasing demand is not totally offset by lower aggregate demand from higher interest rates, fiscal policy can end up less powerful than was originally expected. We refer to this as crowding out, where government borrowing and spending results in higher interest rates, which reduces business investment and household consumption.

The broader lesson is that the government must coordinate fiscal and monetary policy. If expansionary fiscal policy is to work well, then the central bank can also reduce or keep short-term interest rates low. Conversely, monetary policy can also help to ensure that contractionary fiscal policy does not lead to a recession.

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