I. Rethinking Fiscal Activism
The challenge of raising aggregate demand is now a global phenomenon. To get an understanding of the underlying processes, take the case of the US. Here, the fall in the stock market and owner occupied real estate led to an erosion of household wealth by over $10 trillion by June 2009. This led to an estimated decrease in aggregate demand by about $600 annually, or about 3% of GDP, due to a fall in household spending by about $400 billion and production by $200 billion. Automatic stabilizers like a decrease in personal and corporate taxes cushion the fall in aggregate demand by about a third, but still leaving a net GDP gap of about $400 billion annually1. So the present challenge in the US alone lies in policies that could potentially raise aggregate demand by about $400 billion annually.
In many advanced countries, including the United States, the scope of monetary policy to forcefully affect demand is limited to interest rates. However, interest rates in many of these countries are already at historically very low levels, leaving little leverage for further use of this instrument. In many emerging and developing economies, though central banks have lowered interest rates, they have done so cautiously so as to maintain incentives for capital inflows and external stability. Given the extent of the downturn and the limits to monetary policy action, fiscal policy is regarded as being crucial in providing short and medium term support to the global economy. However, while a fiscal response across many countries may be needed, not all countries have sufficient fiscal space to implement it since expansionary fiscal actions may threaten the sustainability of fiscal finances. This note discusses the possible fiscal policy goals, options and the potential long term impacts.