Tag Archives: Tax smoothing

Government Debt Management

In his FT blog, Larry Summers argues for a “quite radical” change in government debt-management. He proposes several lessons:

  • “Debt management is too important to leave to Federal debt managers and certainly to leave to the dealer community. … when interest rates are near zero, it has direct implications for monetary and fiscal policy and economic performance … and … financial stability.”
  • “… it is fairly crazy for the Fed and Treasury, which are supposed to serve the national interest, to pursue diametrically opposed debt-management policies. This is what has happened in recent years, with the Fed seeking to shorten outstanding maturities and the Treasury seeking to term them out.”
  • “Standard discussions of quantitative easing … are intellectually incoherent. It is the total impact of government activities on the stock of debt that the public must hold that should impact on financial markets.”
  • In the US, “the quantity of long-term debt that the markets had to absorb in recent years was well above, rather than below, normal. This suggests that if QE was important in reducing rates or raising asset values it was because of signalling effects … not because of the direct effect of Fed purchases.”
  • “The standard mantra that federal debt-management policies should seek to minimise government borrowing costs is … wrong and incomplete. … it is risk-adjusted expected costs that should be considered. … it is hard to see why the effects of debt policies on levels of demand and on financial stability should be ignored.”
  • “The tax-smoothing aspect, which is central to academic theories of debt policy, is of trivial significance.”
  • Rather than providing opportunities for carry trade, “[t]reasury should reverse the trend towards terming out the debt. Issuing shorter term debt would also help meet private demands for liquid short-term instruments without encouraging risky structures such as banks engaged in maturity transformation.”
  • “Institutional mechanisms should be found to insure that in the future the Fed and Treasury are not pushing debt durations in opposite directions.”

“Starving the Beast? Intra-Generational Conflict and Balanced Budget Rules,” EER, 2007

European Economic Review 51(1), January 2007. PDF.

A balanced budget requirement does not only prevent fiscal policy makers from smoothing tax distortions but also affects their preferred choice of government spending. The paper analyzes the conditions under which groups opposed to government spending might want to implement a balanced budget requirement in order to induce the government to spend less. It shows that relaxing a balanced budget requirement need not be associated with higher government spending.

“Tax Smoothing versus Tax Shifting,” RED, 2004

Review of Economic Dynamics 7, January 2004. PDF.

Household-specific growth rates of the tax base imply that the timing of tax collections determines the distribution of tax burdens and wealth across households. Changes in fiscal policy do not only shift tax burdens across generations, but also within cohorts. Institutional deficit constraints settle tax shifting conflicts in favor of individuals with high income growth. With distortionary taxes, policy makers trade off the relative wealth effects of fiscal policy and the efficiency cost of household specific deadweight burdens. I apply the incidence analysis of fiscal policy to answer the question how the German unification should have optimally been financed.