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Most developed countries face the need for significant policy changes to balance their budgets over the long run. Yet there is significant disagreement in the literature concerning the identification and impact of successful fiscal consolidations. In this paper, we explore the impact that differing assumptions and methodologies have on conclusions, and derive bounds across specifications that can be used by policymakers in designing their own reforms. Using cyclically adjusted panel data for select OECD countries from 1970-2007, we explore how the compositions of successful and unsuccessful consolidations differ for varying definitions of success. While conclusions about the growth impact of reforms vary depending on methodology, we find that there is much less disagreement concerning composition. Specifically, we find strong evidence that expenditure cuts outweigh revenue increases in successful consolidations. We also find evidence that the type of the spending cuts is an important determinant of success, as is the type of tax increases. We use these results as a guide, and discuss specific proposals for reducing the United States' deficit that draw on the lessons from past consolidations.
Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at AEI. Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and the director of economic policy studies at AEI. Matthew Jensen is a research assistant at AEI.