Publication Type

Automatic stabilizers in a low-rate environment

Olivier Blanchard (PIIE) and Lawrence H. Summers (Harvard University)

Policy Briefs 20-2


With interest rates persistently low or even negative in advanced countries, policymakers have barely any room to ease monetary policy when the next recession hits. Fiscal policy will have to play a major and likely dominant role in stimulating the economy, requiring policymakers to fundamentally reconsider fiscal policy. Blanchard and Summers argue for the introduction of what they call “semiautomatic” stabilizers. Unlike purely automatic stabilizers (mechanisms built into government budgets that automatically—without discretionary government action or explicit triggers—increase spending or decrease taxes when the economy slows or enters a recession), semiautomatic stabilizers are targeted tax or spending measures that are triggered if, say, the output growth rate declines or the unemployment rate increases beyond a specified threshold. The authors argue that the trigger should be changes in unemployment rather than changes in output, and the design of semiautomatic stabilizers, whether they focus on mechanisms that rely primarily on income or on intertemporal substitution effects (changing the timing of consumption), depends crucially on the design of discretionary policy.

Data Disclosure:

The data underlying this analysis are available here [zip].

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