Last updated: December 2007
Volume 54, Number 3
IMF Staff Papers

Deficit Limits and Fiscal Rules for Dummies

Paolo Manasse

Full Text of this Article (PDF 160K)

Abstract: The paper shows that common fiscal rules, such as a limit to the deficit-output ratio, induce an "escape clause"–type fiscal policy, similar to that studied for monetary policy by Flood and Isard (1988 and 1989) and Lohmann (1992): The government resorts to an active stabilization (for example, countercyclical) policy only during "exceptional times" by running deficits in recession phases and surpluses during economic booms. In contrast, it optimally chooses a procyclical policy in intermediate states of the economy, for example, by raising the budget deficit when output improves. Because the optimal fiscal reaction function in the presence of fiscal rules is not monotonous in output, the standard estimates that assume linearity are prone to a serious bias, and the conclusions on the pro- or countercyclical properties of fiscal policy found in the literature are likely to be unreliable. [JEL E61, E62, E63]