Using Fiscal Policy to Fight Recession, Unemployment, and Inflation

Fiscal policy is the use of government spending and tax policy to influence the path of the economy over time. Graphically, we see that fiscal policy, whether through changes in spending or taxes, shifts the aggregate demand outward in the case of expansionary fiscal policy and inward in the case of contractionary fiscal policy. We know from the chapter on economic growth that over time the quantity and quality of our resources grow as the population and thus the labor force get larger, as businesses invest in new capital, and as technology improves. The result of this is regular shifts to the right of the aggregate supply curves, as Figure illustrates.

The original equilibrium occurs at E0, the intersection of aggregate demand curve AD0 and aggregate supply curve SRAS0, at an output level of 200 and a price level of 90. One year later, aggregate supply has shifted to the right to SRAS1 in the process of long-term economic growth, and aggregate demand has also shifted to the right to AD1, keeping the economy operating at the new level of potential GDP. The new equilibrium (E1) is an output level of 206 and a price level of 92. One more year later, aggregate supply has again shifted to the right, now to SRAS2, and aggregate demand shifts right as well to AD2. Now the equilibrium is E2, with an output level of 212 and a price level of 94. In short, the figure shows an economy that is growing steadily year to year, producing at its potential GDP each year, with only small inflationary increases in the price level.

The graph shows three aggregate supply curves, three aggregate demand curves, and three potential GDP lines. Each aggregate demand curve intersects with an aggregate supply curve and the potential GDP line.
A Healthy, Growing Economy In this well-functioning economy, each year aggregate supply and aggregate demand shift to the right so that the economy proceeds from equilibrium E0 to E1 to E2. Each year, the economy produces at potential GDP with only a small inflationary increase in the price level. However, if aggregate demand does not smoothly shift to the right and match increases in aggregate supply, growth with deflation can develop.

Aggregate demand and aggregate supply do not always move neatly together. Think about what causes shifts in aggregate demand over time. As aggregate supply increases, incomes tend to go up. This tends to increase consumer and investment spending, shifting the aggregate demand curve to the right, but in any given period it may not shift the same amount as aggregate supply. What happens to government spending and taxes? Government spends to pay for the ordinary business of government- items such as national defense, social security, and healthcare, as Figure shows. Tax revenues, in part, pay for these expenditures. The result may be an increase in aggregate demand more than or less than the increase in aggregate supply. Aggregate demand may fail to increase along with aggregate supply, or aggregate demand may even shift left, for a number of possible reasons: households become hesitant about consuming; firms decide against investing as much; or perhaps the demand from other countries for exports diminishes.

For example, investment by private firms in physical capital in the U.S. economy boomed during the late 1990s, rising from 14.1% of GDP in 1993 to 17.2% in 2000, before falling back to 15.2% by 2002. Conversely, if shifts in aggregate demand run ahead of increases in aggregate supply, inflationary increases in the price level will result. Business cycles of recession and recovery are the consequence of shifts in aggregate supply and aggregate demand. As these occur, the government may choose to use fiscal policy to address the difference.

Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation shows us that a central bank can use its powers over the banking system to engage in countercyclical—or “against the business cycle”—actions. If recession threatens, the central bank uses an expansionary monetary policy to increase the money supply, increase the quantity of loans, reduce interest rates, and shift aggregate demand to the right. If inflation threatens, the central bank uses contractionary monetary policy to reduce the money supply, reduce the quantity of loans, raise interest rates, and shift aggregate demand to the left. Fiscal policy is another macroeconomic policy tool for adjusting aggregate demand by using either government spending or taxation policy.