Unexpectedly Intriguing!
11 June 2013

Brian Lucking and Daniel Wilson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco have made news with their 3 June 2013 Economic Letter, in which they point the finger at a new source of drag on the U.S. economy: the U.S. federal government's fiscal policies, and President Obama's tax hikes in particular (emphasis ours):

While our estimates show that fiscal policy has held back the recovery slightly to date, the effect over the next three years looks much bigger. The CBO projects that the federal deficit as a share of GDP will drop 1.4 percentage points per year over the next three years. This projection would ease slightly to 1.2 percentage points per year if sequestration spending cuts were reversed. By contrast, our calculation of the historical-norm deficit decline through 2015 is 0.4 percentage point per year based on the CBO’s output gap projections. This implies that the excess drag from the rapidly shrinking deficit would reduce real GDP growth annually by between 0.8 and 1.0 percentage point, depending on whether sequestration is reversed. Thus, with or without sequestration, fiscal policy is expected to be a much greater drag on economic growth over the next three years than it has been so far.

Surprisingly, despite all the attention federal spending cuts and sequestration have received, our calculations suggest they are not the main contributors to this projected drag. The excess fiscal drag on the horizon comes almost entirely from rising taxes. Specifically, we calculate that nine-tenths of that projected 1 percentage point excess fiscal drag comes from tax revenue rising faster than normal as a share of the economy. As Panel B shows, at the end of 2012, taxes as a share of GDP were below both their historical norm in relation to the business cycle and their long-run average of about 18%. However, over the next three years, they are projected to rise much faster than our estimate of the usual cyclical pattern would indicate. The CBO points to several factors underlying this “super-cyclical” rise, including higher income tax rates for high-income households, the recent expiration of temporary Social Security payroll tax cuts, and new taxes associated with the Obama Administration’s health-care legislation.

The timing of this particular economic letter from the Fed is cool, because we just did the analysis of the impact of the spending cuts and tax increases upon the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2013. In that analysis, we found that the Fed's recent adjustments to its quantitative easing programs were working to offset the negative effects of those fiscal policies, which would appear to be the only reason the U.S. economy grew in 2013-Q1.

But more importantly, we also quantified the impact of both the spending cuts and the tax increases upon the nation's GDP. Our tool below focuses just on those components and estimates their relative share of negative impact:

GDP and Fiscal Policy "Input Shocks"
Input Data Values
Nominal GDP for the Previous Period [billions]
Change in Expected Federal Government Tax Collections [billions]
Change in Federal, State & Local Government Spending [billions]
Fiscal Policy Multipliers (Estimated Range)
Government Spending (0.6-0.7)*
Government Taxes (-3.0)
* If unemployment rate ≥ 7.5%. Multiplier is 0.5 if unemployment rate < 7.5%.

Effects of Changes in Fiscal Policies Upon GDP
Calculated Results Values
Effect of Change in Government Spending on GDP [billions]
Effect of Change in Government Taxes on GDP [billions]
Combined Effects on GDP [billions]
Percentage Impact of Fiscal Policies Upon GDP
Percentage of Drag on GDP Due to Spending Cuts
Percentage of Drag on GDP Due to Tax Hikes
If you're reading this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, click here to access a working version of this tool!

Overall, for the first quarter of 2013, we find that the combination of government spending cuts and tax increases would reduce the United States' GDP by $184.5 billion from the previous quarter, which means the drag of the changes in the U.S.' fiscal policies upon the nation is roughly 1.2% of its GDP, which is close to what the Fed predicts with its model.

Of that fiscal drag on the United States' GDP, 8.5% may be attributed to the effect of government spending cuts at all levels in the U.S. - federal state and local. The remaining 91.5% of that decline is directly attributable to the tax hikes that went into effect in 2013, including the Social Security payroll tax hike, the various Obamacare tax hikes and President Obama's desired tax hikes upon high income earners and investments that were part of the fiscal cliff tax deal at the beginning of the year, all of which applied at the federal government level.

We therefore find that the actual results of the negative effects of the changes in U.S. federal government's fiscal policies are turning out to be pretty much right in line with what the Federal Reserve has predicted using its model.

Previously on Political Calculations

Update 29 June 2013: Reduced the default value for government spending cuts in the tool above from -26.0 billion to -24.2 billion, per the BEA's third estimate of GDP for the first quarter of 2013. We calculate the overall reduction in GDP due to the fiscal drag from tax hikes (92%) and government spending cuts (8%) taking effect in the first quarter of 2013 is 1.1%, which closely agrees with the Fed's prediction.

Labels: , , ,

About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations

Thanks in advance!

Recent Posts

Indices, Futures, and Bonds

Closing values for previous trading day.

Most Popular Posts
Quick Index

Site Data

This site is primarily powered by:

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

CSS Validation

Valid CSS!

RSS Site Feed

AddThis Feed Button


The tools on this site are built using JavaScript. If you would like to learn more, one of the best free resources on the web is available at W3Schools.com.

Other Cool Resources

Blog Roll

Market Links

Useful Election Data
Charities We Support
Shopping Guides
Recommended Reading
Recently Shopped

Seeking Alpha Certified