Fiscal Tightening and Economic Growth: Exploring Cross-Country Correlations

Paolo Mauro (PIIE) and Jan Zilinsky (PIIE)
Policy Brief
September 2015

The global financial and economic crisis that began in 2008 has rekindled the debate on the impact of fiscal policy on economic growth. At the outset of the crisis the focus—particularly in the United States—was on whether fiscal stimulus (an expansion in the fiscal deficit) boosts economic growth. Since 2011 or so, with the depth of the crisis becoming more severe in some European countries and Greece in particular, the emphasis of the debate has shifted to whether fiscal adjustment (a reduction in the fiscal deficit) curtails economic growth. Public discourse has been heavily influenced by simple charts analyzing the correlations between measures of fiscal "austerity" and economic growth for small samples of countries over limited time periods. Mauro and Zilinsky analyze the correlations in the data starting from the simplest and gradually building up, in a step-by-step, transparent manner, to multivariate regressions based on various samples of countries for different periods. The results show that simple correlations are no longer significant when considering slightly longer sample periods and omitting outliers, like Greece, from the sample. In multivariate regressions using broader samples, a tightening of fiscal policy is significantly associated with lower economic growth only in some specifications and estimation samples. On the whole, the data offer partial support to the notion that fiscal choices and output growth are correlated.

Data disclosure: The Stata dataset [dta] underlying the figures in this analysis is available here [zip].