Fiscal Policy

Fiscal Policy: Concept

Governmental financial policies and operations, concerning the raising and disbursement of funds, influence the economic behaviors and activities, and so the national income, employment, income distribution, price situation, international trade, etc. This realization has led to make deliberate adjustments in governmental income and expenditure policies and programs to attain the economic objectives. Such an adjustments is called the fiscal policy. So fiscal policy is concerned with the adjustments in the operation of the treasury to solve and attain economic problems and objectives.

Arthur Smithies defines fiscal policy as, "a policy under which the government uses its expenditure and revenue programs to produce desirable effects and avoid undesirable effects on the national income, production and employment."
According to Due and Friedlander, “By fiscal policy we refer to the governmental determination of the level and structure of taxes and expenditures, and the manner of finanacing a budgetary surplus or deficit to achieve the various macro-economic goals of full employment, price stability, growth, balance of payments equilibrium, and so forth.”
Ursula Hicks defines, “Fiscal policy is concerned with the manner in which all the different elements of public finance may collectively geared up to forward the aims of the economic policy.”
J.M.Keynes defines, “Fiscal policy is a policy that uses public finance as a balancing factor in the development of the economy.”

Evolution of Fiscal Policy

Since late 18th. Century until 1930’s, the ‘Laissez-faire’ policy guided public finance to make least possible interference on the functioning of free market mechanism. Then the ideals of sound public financial policy were:
  1. reduction of public expenditure to the minimum possible limit;
  2. tax structure be designed in such a way so that the market or price mechanism be disturbed to a little extent as far as possible; and
  3. budget to be annually balanced.
The traditional belief did not recognize the possible effects of taxes and expenditure upon the level of national income and employment. Taxes were considered only a means to finance government expenditure, and not a means to regulate the economy. Similarly, borrowings to finance government expenditures in maintaining economic stability were not realized.

The Great Depression of 1930’s was a milestone in the evolution of fiscal policy with the operation public financial operation in influencing the economic activities. At that time, governments were to provide relief to the unemployed people and to revive the economy from depression by increasing the effective demand. J.M. Keynes advocated the use of public financial operation in this regard.

In 1940’s. the followers of Keynes like Lerner, Hansen, Dalton, and Beveridge added new dimension to fiscal policy to control inflation as well. Then the flexible or managed budgetary policy was realized and practiced as needed by the economic situation.

After the Second World War the importance of fiscal policy was further recognized in the developing countries. The urge for fast economic growth led to adopt planning in most of the developing countries. This led to the need for increasing governmental investments and regulate the private sectors’ investment activities in consistent with the plan objectives. In the late 1960’s, the significance of fiscal policy to promote distributive justice was realized. And in the 1970’s, the need for maintaining ecological balance (environmental protection) also became the part of fiscal policy.

Role of Fiscal Policy

1. Fiscal Policy and Economic Growth
In a simple way economic growth can be understood as the increase in the level of national production, and thus the national income. It is measured as the increase in Real GDP/GNP or Real Per Capita Income. Economic growth has a process. For growth the productive capacity of the economy should be increased, which is possible with the increase in capital formation. Capital formation needs increase in national investments. To increase national investments there is necessity to mobilize domestic savings by both the private and government sectors. Besides, attraction of foreign capital also helps in this concern.

Growth (G) = Investment Ratio (I) / Incremental Capital Output Ratio (ICOR)

So, economic growth depends on the size of the national investments and the size of the incremental capital output ratio. In the underdeveloped countries the necessary amount of savings and investments can not be generated only by the market system. And the government is to play the leading role with functioning as an investor, facilitator and regulator of the economy by using necessary fiscal policy.

Increase in national savings includes both the private savings and government savings (in the form of revenue surplus). Private savings can be increased and mobilized with establishment and expansion of the financial institutions of different nature supporting through expenditure (including subsidies), and tax incentives as tax-holidays, concessions, depreciation allowances, carry-over losses, expansion of business activities, etc. for the private sector.

National savings can also be increased with the imposition of taxes generating maximum potential revenue and minimizing the recurrent expenditure of government with substantial amount of revenue-surplus, borrowings and creation of extra money. Resource gap in development finance can be supplemented by receiving foreign aids as well as attracting private foreign investments. 

The public income from different sources may be used as expenditures on production activities by government itself, creation of physical infrastructures, research activities, promotional activities to increase the productive capacity of the economy. These investments also attract private investments.

2. Fiscal policy and Distributive Justice
In the underdeveloped countries there is wide inequality in the distribution of national income. One of the basic objectives of a welfare state is to minimize the inequality in national income distribution. For this, people in the lower income strata and underprivileged should be enabled to earn more. Fiscal policy can help in this concern.

Higher income in the UDCs largely goes on luxurious consumption and unproductive investments. Progressive taxes on higher income and wealth, luxurious consumption and unproductive investments generate substantial revenue for the government. At the same time, low rate of taxes or exemptions on production and consumption of mass consumption goods, if necessary even on imports and subsidy increases income of the low income people in an indirect way with reduction or control of prices.

Public expenditure on socio-economic upliftment of the poor people with the provision of free or subsidized education and training, health, safe drinking water and sanitation, housing, subsidy on financial support and special development programs help in enabling their earning capacity.

Similarly, priority for labor intensive technology helps to increase employment opportunities. Public expenditure on different developmental activities using labor intensive technology is desirable. Along with this, tax incentives for private sector absorbing more labor also help in this regard.

Public expenditure on social welfare activities like old-age pension and other allowances, operation of charitable institutions also promotes distributive justice. 

Minimization of regional disparities and rural-urban disparities through the creation of socio-economic infrastructures, fiscal incentives, subsidy and special development programs help in attracting economic ventures, creation of employment opportunities and utilization of local resources, and promote economic status of the relatively less developed regions.

3. Fiscal policy and Balanced Development
Development in totality refers to simultaneously development of all sectors (at least the major sectors) of the economy. It needs balanced development of the all sectors. There is interdependent relationship among the different sectors in the economy, which is indicated by the Input-Output Analysis. The output of a sector is used as inputs by different sectors, and for the output of a sector it needs the output of other sectors or industry as inputs.

So with the information about the inter-industrial or sectoral relationship from the Input-Output analysis, fiscal policy can help in maintaining balanced development of the economy. For this, fiscal policy in the form of tax incentives like holidays, concessions, depreciation allowances for both the input supplying and absorbing sectors or industries is desirable. Similarly, public expenditure on creation of infrastructures and provision of subsidy also help in this concern. 

The next aspect of balanced development is the proportional development of different regions or areas of the country to minimize the disparities in economic prosperity. Fiscal policy, in consistent with the regional planning strategy, can help in this concern. Discriminator tax-policies favoring or providing incentives to the investors in relatively less developed areas along with public expenditure on creation of infrastructures and provision of subsidy may attract and promote economic activities in such regions. This will lead to prosperity of the less developed areas, and will promote the proportional balanced development of all regions of the country.

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