Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Preannounced sales tax increases as a form of unconventional expansionary fiscal policy


Fiscal policy is a short run demand management stabilization policy that includes changes in government expenditures (G) and/or in taxes (T).  Mind you that it is changes in direct taxes that are considered part of the fiscal policy arsenal.  More specifically, if an economy is about to enter, or is in a recession (or suffers from a large negative output gap), then the government can decrease direct taxes (T). Disposable income (Yd) will increase and thus consumption expenditures (C) and aggregate demand (AD) will increase leading to an increase in overall economic activity (remember, disposable income (Yd) is income minus direct taxes plus transfer payments {so: Yd = Y – T + Tr}, and is not the same as the real income which is money divided by the average price level). On the other hand, if an economy is overheating then policymakers could increase (direct) taxes so that Yd decreases, decreasing consumption expenditures and thus AD (this analysis could also refer to corporate -profit- taxes but let's keep it simple). 

What about changes in indirect taxes?  We treat these at the IB Economics course as possibly affecting the short run aggregate supply.  If they increase across the board (say, an increase in a country’s VAT / GST to 20%) this will increase production costs of firms and as a result decrease the SRAS, shifting it to the left.  This is the typical impact of a change in indirect taxation on an economy according to the IB Economics syllabus).

BUT:

In a recent paper in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, titled  “Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates ” the authors (Scott R. Baker et al.) show that “shoppers do actually adjust spending on all kinds of items when state or local (sales) taxes change”. They used data for more than 150,000 households across 40 states to examine whether spending changed in response to increases in sales taxes (the full paper found here).

The researchers found that “…in the month before an increase, consumers stocked up on storable goods, like laundry detergent and alcohol, while they were less expensive.” The same authors find in another recent paper that car sales increased by over 8% in the month before a 1% increase in the sales tax rate!  Click  here for this paper.

The question is ‘so what?”  Why would a HL or SL IB Economics candidate be interested in this finding? Well, the answer is that it provides an alternative policy choice to policymakers who face the threat of recession and are constrained by interest rates at, or very close to zero (the ZLB -zero lower bound- problem) and also by little room for conventional expansionary fiscal policy.

"This research suggests that sales tax adjustments can be a way to stimulate spending at a time when monetary policymakers can’t turn to lowering interest rates because they are already near zero."

Policymakers confronted with the risk of a recession may announce that “..there's going to be a temporary sales tax cut that's going to be paid for by a sales tax increase in the future” 

Their finding imply that this may “induce people to spend more now, buy cars, or buy other things when they are in the low tax environment”. 

NOTE

If you are to include this finding in a paper 1 (essay) response, make sure you first clearly explain the conventional tools for stimulating an economy.  Only then you can explain this finding making sure you remember to quote the title of the paper, the journal and one of the authors.  

Lastly, an absolutely excellent short piece on fiscal policy where everything an IB Economics student need to know is clearly explain is a 2020 article in the (free) IMF journal Finance and Development titled Fiscal Policy: Taking and Giving Away” by Mark Horton and Asmaa El-Ganainy.  

May I remind IB Economics students that they should make sure to subscribe to the Finance and Development IMF publication.  It has very many, easy and interesting articles that can help them achieve high grades in exams. 


 


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