Since the early 1970s, fiscal deficits and rising public debt have been ubiquitous features of government budgetary positions. Indeed, in aggregate, fiscal balances of both industrial and developing economies have been negative in each of the past 30 years, with an average deficit of about 3 percent of GDP a year for both groups (Figure 1.1). In recent years, an improvement in the overall fiscal positions in the industrial economies during the economic and financial market boom in the 1990s was quickly reversed thereafter. In many developing economies, although there has been a welcome turnaround in budgetary positions over the last 4 years, this reflects in large part cyclical factors, higher commodity prices, and a benign global financial market environment. 1
Mr. Xavier Debrun, Mr. David Hauner, and Manmohan S. Kumar
Economic analysis has long recognized that policymakers, particularly in the fiscal domain, act quite rationally according to specific incentives, including reelection concerns, pressures from interest groups and constituencies, and the need to honor specific pledges or commitments. Growing evidence of fiscal indiscipline and procyclicality has prompted a debate on the likely distortions causing and arising from such behavior, and on effective ways to correct policymakers’ incentives in a socially beneficial way. This chapter examines how distorted incentives may undermine a judicious use of fiscal discretion, and explores how fiscal frameworks could improve fiscal behavior and outcomes.
Although some debate on the feasibility and effectiveness of fiscal policy in stabilizing output fluctuations continues, there is little disagreement that, as a rule, policy should not be procyclical. The standard Keynesian approach suggests that fiscal policy should act in a stabilizing manner, while within the neoclassical paradigm, tax-smoothing models imply that fiscal policy should remain neutral over the business cycle. Even in a Ricardian framework, where a reduction in taxes or an increase in spending leads to an equivalent rise in private sector saving, policy would not be expected to be procyclical.