Tax and Fiscal Policy

Fiscal Policy

Taxes and Government Spending

Fiscal policy describes two governmental actions by the government. The first is taxation. By levying taxes the government receives revenue from the populace. Taxes come in many varieties and serve different specific purposes, but the key concept is that taxation is a transfer of assets from the people to the government. The second action is government spending. This may take the form of wages to government employees, social security benefits, smooth roads, or fancy weapons. When the government spends, it transfers assets from itself to the public (although in the case of weaponry, it is not always so obvious that the population holds the assets). Since taxation and government spending represent reversed asset flows, we can think of them as opposite policies.

In the first macroeconomic SparkNote on measuring the economy we learned that output, or national income, can be described by the equation Y = C + I + G + NX where Y is output, or national income, C is consumption spending, I is investment spending, G is government spending, and NX is net exports. This equation can be expanded to represent taxes by the equation Y = C(Y - T) + I + G + NX. In this case, C(Y - T) captures the idea that consumption spending is based on both income and taxes. Disposable income is the amount of money that can be spent on consumption after taxes are removed from total income. The new form of the output, or national income, equation reflects both elements of fiscal policy and is most useful for analysis of the effects of fiscal policy changes.

Types of Fiscal Policy

The government has control over both taxes and government spending. When the government uses fiscal policy to increase the amount of money available to the populace, this is called expansionary fiscal policy. Examples of this include lowering taxes and raising government spending. When the government uses fiscal policy to decrease the amount of money available to the populace, this is called contractionary fiscal policy. Examples of this include increasing taxes and lowering government spending.

There is another way to interpret the terms expansionary and contractionary when discussing fiscal policy. If we look at the effects of fiscal policy on the economy as a whole rather than on the individual, we see that expansionary fiscal policy increases the output, or national income, while contractionary fiscal policy decreases the output, or national income. Thus, there are two basic classes of effects of fiscal policy, those that deal with the individual and those that deal with the economy at large.

Let us first work through how expansionary fiscal policy functions. Recall that lowering taxes and raising government spending are both forms of expansionary fiscal policy. When the government lowers taxes, consumers have more disposable income. In terms of the economy as a whole, this is represented in the output equation Y = C(Y - T) + I + G + NX, where a decrease in T, given a stable Y, leads to an increase in C, and ultimately to an increase in Y. Raising government spending has similar effects. When the government spends more on goods and services, the population, which provides those goods and services, receives more money. In terms of the economy as a whole, this is again represented by Y = C(Y - T) + I + G + NX, where an increase in G leads to an increase in Y. Thus, expansionary fiscal policy makes the populace wealthier and increases output, or national income.

Let us now work through how contractionary fiscal policy functions. Recall that raising taxes and lowering government spending are both forms of contractionary fiscal policy. When the government raises taxes, consumers are forced to put a larger portion of their income toward taxes, and thus disposable income falls. In terms of the economy as a whole, this is represented by Y = C(Y - T) + I + G + NX where an increase in T results in a decrease in Y, holding all other variables fixed. When the government reduces government spending, the recipients of government spending, the populace, have less disposable income. In terms of the economy as whole, this is represented by Y = C(Y - T) + I + G + NX where a decrease in G results in a decrease in Y. Contractionary fiscal policy makes the populace less wealthy and decreases output, or national income.