Macroeconomics textbooks and journalists write in earnest about the crowding out effects of fiscal policy. Government expenditure is widely believed to displace private investment by raising interest rates which increases entrepreneurs’ borrowing costs. On this basis, governments have been ordered to cut down expenditure. Government deficits are identified as the cause of decreasing private investment as well as for creating inflationary pressures in the economy. This blog post argues that crowding out occurs under special circumstances – (1) when the economy is at full employment and (2) money supply is exogenous. In fact, when the economy operates at less than full employment and money supply is endogenous (that is, the central bank conducts monetary policy by adjusting the interest rates and the quantity of money endogenously adjusts to the demand for money at that set interest rate) government expenditure results in crowding in.
The crowding out argument can be represented with the help of the IS-LM diagram. IS refers to equilibrium in the goods market (quantity demanded = quantity supplied). LM refers to equilibrium in the money market (money demand = money supply). The intersection of the IS and LM curves gives us the equilibrium output and interest.
When government expenditure increases, IS curve shifts outwards. Both output and interest rates increase in an exogenous money model (upward sloping LM curve). The automatic increase in interest rate because of government expenditure is then said to result in crowding out of private investment.
Next, we look at interest setting monetary policy (with endogenous money) using the framework of IS-LM. In this case, LM is horizontal because the interest rates are set by the monetary authorities keeping in mind their inflationary target. This scheme is more realistic given the role played by Central Banks today. Interest setting monetary policy can be represented in an IS-LM framework as follows.
The goods market is also referred to as the real sector and the money market as the financial sector. We additionally assume (as is the case with not only the Indian economy but many other economies) the economy to be in a less than full employment position. If the economy operates at full-employment, increase in government expenditure will undoubtedly lead to inflation. In fact, an increase in private expenditure will also create inflation in a full employment set-up. In this realistic model, let us see what happens when there is an increase in government expenditure.
The diagram above clearly shows that an increase in government expenditure, represented as a shift in the IS curve does not raise the interest rates. The entire increase of government expenditure translates into increase in equilibrium income. That is, there is zero crowding out in this case as the economy operates at less than full employment. The increase in demand for money is met by endogenous increase in the supply of money through credit creation. In short, fiscal policy has no systematic effect on interest rates in a setting wherein the interest rates are set by monetary policy.
Therefore, it is clear that the basis of crowding out argument rests on the unrealistic assumptions of (1) full-employment positions and/or (2) exogenous money. Ordering the Indian government or other governments to cut back their expenditure by the IMF or by the ‘top’ economists therefore lacks a sound basis. The role of the government in aiding an economy towards its full-employment levels therefore can never be reiterated enough. Moreover, it is an argument which is based on sound economic principles.
Smith, Matthew (2012), ‘ECOS 2002: Intermediate Macroeconomics’, Lecture Notes, University of Sydney.