Tax Base Variability and Procyclical Fiscal Policy
37 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2000 Last revised: 14 Oct 2010
Date Written: January 2000
Based on a sample of 56 countries, we find that while fiscal policy in the G-7 countries appears to be broadly consistent with Barro's tax smoothing proposition, in developing countries government spending and taxes are highly procyclical (i.e., government spending rises and taxes fall during expansions, while the reverse is true in recessions). To explain this puzzle, we develop an optimal fiscal policy model in which running budget surpluses is costly because they create pressures to increase public spending. Given this distortion, a government that faces large (and perfectly anticipated) fluctuations in the tax base will find it optimal to run a procyclical fiscal policy. We argue that the differences in fiscal policy between the G-7 countries and developing countries can be traced back to the fact that the tax base is much more volatile in developing countries than in the G-7 countries.
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