The Building Blocks of Keynesian Analysis

The Expenditure Multiplier

A key concept in Keynesian economics is the expenditure multiplier. The expenditure multiplier is the idea that not only does spending affect the equilibrium level of GDP, but that spending is powerful. More precisely, it means that a change in spending causes a more than proportionate change in GDP.

ΔY ΔSpending >1

The reason for the expenditure multiplier is that one person’s spending becomes another person’s income, which leads to additional spending and additional income so that the cumulative impact on GDP is larger than the initial increase in spending. The appendix on The Expenditure-Output Model provides the details of the multiplier process, but the concept is important enough for us to summarize here. While the multiplier is important for understanding the effectiveness of fiscal policy, it occurs whenever any autonomous increase in spending occurs. Additionally, the multiplier operates in a negative as well as a positive direction. Thus, when investment spending collapsed during the Great Depression, it caused a much larger decrease in real GDP. The size of the multiplier is critical and was a key element in discussions of the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus package, officially titled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.