The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
Structural indicators of a country's fiscal position are regularly used as estimates of both discretionary changes in fiscal policy and the effect of fiscal policy on aggregate demand. This paper looks at such indicators and evaluates, from a theoretical standpoint and from empirical case studies, their usefulness in measuring the size of discretionary policy action or fiscal demand stimulus. Two propositions are examined in detail: first, that the change in the primary structural balance provides a better indicator of discretionary fiscal policy than does the change in the primary balance; and second, that the change in the structural balance is a good indicator of the demand stimulus arising from changes in the fiscal position. In addition, the paper discusses measurement problems relating to structural balances and the use of the fiscal impulse as an alternative to structural balances.