A Guide for Deficit Reduction in the United States Based on Historical Consolidations That Worked

Abstract

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.

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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.

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About the Author

 

Kevin A.
Hassett
  • Kevin A. Hassett is the State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a resident scholar and AEI's director of economic policy studies.



    Before joining AEI, Hassett was a senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and an associate professor of economics and finance at Columbia (University) Business School. He served as a policy consultant to the US Department of the Treasury during the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

    Hassett has also been an economic adviser to presidential candidates since 2000, when he became the chief economic adviser to Senator John McCain during that year's presidential primaries. He served as an economic adviser to the George W. Bush 2004 presidential campaign, a senior economic adviser to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign, and an economic adviser to the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

    Hassett is the author or editor of many books, among them "Rethinking Competitiveness" (2012), "Toward Fundamental Tax Reform" (2005), "Bubbleology: The New Science of Stock Market Winners and Losers" (2002), and "Inequality and Tax Policy" (2001). He is also a columnist for National Review and has written for Bloomberg.

    Hassett frequently appears on Bloomberg radio and TV, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, NPR, and "PBS NewsHour," among others. He is also often quoted by, and his opinion pieces have been published in, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

    Hassett has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College.

  • Phone: 202-862-7157
    Email: khassett@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Emma Bennett
    Phone: 202-862-5862
    Email: emma.bennett@aei.org

 

Andrew G.
Biggs
  • Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Social Security reform, state and local government pensions, and public sector pay and benefits.

    Before joining AEI, Biggs was the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), where he oversaw SSA’s policy research efforts. In 2005, as an associate director of the White House National Economic Council, he worked on Social Security reform. In 2001, he joined the staff of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. Biggs has been interviewed on radio and television as an expert on retirement issues and on public vs. private sector compensation. He has published widely in academic publications as well as in daily newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He has also testified before Congress on numerous occasions. In 2013, the Society of Actuaries appointed Biggs co-vice chair of a blue ribbon panel tasked with analyzing the causes of underfunding in public pension plans and how governments can securely fund plans in the future.

    Biggs holds a bachelor’s degree from Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, master’s degrees from Cambridge University and the University of London, and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics.

  • Phone: 202-862-5841
    Email: andrew.biggs@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Kelly Funderburk
    Phone: 202-862-5920
    Email: kelly.funderburk@aei.org

 

Matthew H.
Jensen
  • Matthew Jensen is a research associate for economic policy studies. He maintains an active research agenda focused on public finance and taxation, and he coordinates the ongoing development of AEI’s International Tax Database. Jensen has written for The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Tax Notes, among others, and he frequently appears on radio and television. Before joining AEI, he worked for a hedge fund in Minneapolis.


    Follow Matthew Jensen on Twitter.

  • Email: Matt.Jensen@AEI.org

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