Back To CourseEconomics 102: Macroeconomics
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Jon has taught Economics and Finance and has an MBA in Finance
Meet Jennifer. Jennifer currently earns a $2,000 paycheck each month by working at an ice cream stand. Jennifer's $2,000 has a certain amount of purchasing power, meaning that she can buy a certain amount of goods and services with it. She typically spends her $2,000 paycheck buying clothes and food.
Now the economy begins to grow rapidly. Jennifer notices it because the lines have grown at the ice cream stand. The next thing she knows, her paycheck has gone up from $2,000 to $2,500 - a nice raise. Unfortunately, the enemy called inflation also begins to show up.
Economists call this scenario an expansionary gap. In this lesson, we'll find out more about what it is, how it's illustrated, and, more importantly, how the government responds to an economy that is overheating with inflation using what they call 'contractionary fiscal policy.'
Jennifer is experiencing the effects of an inflationary economy as they happen and eventually realizes why there may be a need for help from the government. When Jennifer first receives the extra $500 from her raise, she's extremely excited about being able to buy $500 of additional goods and services. As a matter of fact, she's thinking about buying several stylish skirts and three pairs of designer jeans.
Well, her excitement turns to discouragement and disappointment the next time she does her regular grocery shopping and pays her bills for the month. Although her paycheck increased, so have all the prices for goods and services in the economy. They've increased for the same reason her ice cream prices did - the economy is overheating with inflation, which steals the purchasing power of the money.
Here's how economists illustrate an economy that's overheating with inflation. They call it an 'expansionary gap' because economic output has expanded beyond its long-run potential, resulting in inflation. Some economists simply call it an 'inflationary gap,' which means the same thing.
As you can see, point A is where the economy is right now. Notice that it's to the right of the vertical line, which is the long-run aggregate supply curve. This vertical line represents the economy's potential - or capacity, if you want to think of it that way - so that means an expansionary gap is when the economy is growing faster than its potential. Like a long-distance runner who temporarily runs faster than his or her capacity and starts to burn out, the economy begins to overheat when it grows above its capacity.
Once Jennifer discovers that the economy is overheating with inflation, she goes back to her ice cream stand and presses a secret button that sends an immediate signal to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where government leaders are alerted to a major threat. Government leaders, otherwise known as 'fiscal authorities' - that's what we call them in economics - leave their meetings and run to the fiscal policy room to decide on a course of action.
Here's how economists look at the situation. The word 'fiscal' refers to the government's budget, which includes government spending, taxes and transfer payments like welfare or social security. Fiscal authorities use contractionary fiscal policy to slow down the economy, which offsets - or reverses - an inflation problem. Contractionary fiscal policy is the use of government spending, taxation and transfer payments to contract economic output.
Think of it this way: when a long-distance runner starts to overheat, he slows down and cools off. His heart rate comes back down to a more normal level. His body comes back into balance. Likewise, when the economy is overheating with inflation, it needs to slow down and cool off. Inflation needs to come back to a more normal level. Supply and demand need to come back into balance. The government sometimes steps in to help it slow down by using contractionary fiscal policy, which is what we're talking about in this lesson.
Contractionary fiscal policy is a Keynesian thing, because famous economist John Maynard Keynes first proposed it after living through and observing the Great Depression. He believed that the government should step in and help, when necessary, to cool down an economy that is overheating with inflation. On the other hand, there are classical economists. Classical economists favor doing absolutely nothing to help the economy because they believe that the self-correcting forces of the free market will fix high inflation on its own.
There are three tools the government uses to contract the economy. Here are the tools and how they're used. They can:
Suppose that inflation goes from a three percent rate to a ten percent annual rate, which is what Jennifer observed at the ice cream stand and at her favorite clothing store. Let's say that at the same time, real GDP goes from two percent to ten percent. So the economy is growing rapidly, but prices are also going up. How would the government respond to this situation? The appropriate contractionary fiscal policy, in this case, would be to raise taxes and decrease government spending. They could also decrease transfer payments, although this option is rarely used because it's so politically unpopular to reduce the benefits that voters are receiving from the government. What do you think people would do if they said, 'Okay, we're going to lower welfare payments, lower social security payments, etc.?' People would be very upset, so this option is not used very often.
Now let's talk about illustrating contractionary fiscal policy. How do we illustrate this process? Economists would say it this way: contractionary fiscal policy will shift the aggregate demand curve to the left, resulting in lower economic output and also lower inflation.
When the economy is operating at point A, which is beyond its long-run potential, a Keynesian, who believes in taking action, will most likely favor using contractionary fiscal policy to shift the aggregate demand curve to the left and move the economy back to point B.
So now contractionary fiscal policy has been implemented by the government, and they've effectively minimized the enemy of inflation. When the economy was overheating, Jennifer earned a raise and she was happy. Then she was disappointed when she realized that prices everywhere had also increased, so her raise meant nothing. Now that economic output has contracted, though, Jennifer sees the line at the ice cream stand begin to slow down to more normal levels. She also sees that ice cream prices go down somewhat, and she begins to get excited again because the prices at her favorite clothing store have fallen as well. The very good news for Jennifer is that she previously got a raise of $500, and now, even though prices have come back down to a more normal level, her boss lets her keep the raise, which makes her extremely happy again! This means she can go back to the store and finally get those stylish shirts and designer jeans that she's been thinking about for a long time!
Alright, let's review. When the economy grows too quickly, workers are happy with higher wages. But inflation springs up across the economy and steals the purchasing power of extra money that workers earn as well as the benefits of greater economic output.
The government sometimes responds to an overheating inflationary economy by using what they call 'contractionary fiscal policy.' The word 'fiscal' refers to the government's budget, and the budget includes spending (which is money going out), taxes (which is money coming in) and transfer payments (which is also money going out). Contractionary fiscal policy is the use of government spending, taxation and transfer payments to contract economic output so they can reduce inflation. Contractionary fiscal policy is used to offset an economy that is overheating, what economists call an 'expansionary gap,' or sometimes they'll call it an 'inflationary gap.'
Keynesian economists believe that the government should step in and help to fight the enemy of inflation, while classical economists believe that the self-correcting forces of the free market will take care of itself.
The three fiscal policy tools used by the government to contract the economy include:
When illustrating contractionary fiscal policy, economists say it this way: contractionary fiscal policy leads to a decrease in aggregate demand and results in lower economic output and lower inflation.
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Back To CourseEconomics 102: Macroeconomics
15 chapters | 123 lessons