Fiscal policy boosted U.S. GDP growth by 8.5 percentage points at an annual rate in the first quarter of 2021, the Hutchins Center Fiscal Impact Measure (FIM) shows. The FIM translates changes in taxes and spending at federal, state, and local levels into changes in aggregate demand, illustrating the effect of fiscal policy on real GDP growth. GDP rose at an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter, according to the government’s latest estimate.
The boost to economic growth in the first quarter from fiscal policy is largely the result of two rounds of rebate checks (the $600 per person from legislation enacted in December that was paid in January, and the $1,400 per person from the American Rescue Plan Act that was paid in the last few weeks of March). An uptick in purchases by the federal government, reflecting in part spending on vaccines and processing of Paycheck Protection Program loans, also boosted economic activity.
Author(s): Manuel Alcala Kovalski, Sophia Campbell, Tyler Powell, Louise Sheiner
Publication Date: 1 June 2021 (most recent data update)
First, we compute the differences between the output paths for 2020–2030 projected before and after the pandemic (the shaded area in Figure 1) and estimate its present value discounting at a 0% real interest rate (a reasonably conservative assumption in a context where real rates are negative for most developed countries). This yields a total loss of about half of global GDP.
Next, there is the question of the fiscal stimulus (equivalent to 15% of GDP, according to the IMF fiscal monitor) without which the output loss in 2020 would have been much steeper. How much of the economic impact of the fiscal unwinding is properly accounted for in the revised growth projections (Beck et al. 2021), particularly given that a big part of the stimulus (6% of the 15%) was below the line (loans, equity stakes, guarantees) with a cost that is contingent on the speed and composition of economic recovery in each country? There is no simple answer here. Moreover, we are ignoring potential bouts of financial stress or debt restructurings in heavily indebted countries (Persaud 2021), as well as the second wave of stimulus already in line for 2021 in many advanced economies. All things considered, adding the full 15% of GDP as an indicative measure of the cost of fiscal support does not look unreasonable.
Third, there is the value of the excess deaths due to Covid-19. There is, of course, no uncontroversial way to put a value on human life. For the sake of argument, we follow a recent estimation for the US by Cutler and Summers (2020) that uses the ‘statistical lives’ value to place it between $10 million and $7 million per life. If we take the considerably more conservative $5 million per life, acknowledging that the statistical value may vary across countries, the cost related to the global cumulative deaths registered so far amounts to 16.9% of global GDP.
Author(s): Eduardo Levy Yeyati, Federico Filippini
The record suggests that, after periods of massive non-financial disruption such as wars and pandemics, GDP does bounce back. It offers three further lessons. First, while people are keen to go out and spend, uncertainty lingers. Second, crises encourage people and businesses to try new ways of doing things, upending the structure of the economy. Third, as “Les Miserables” shows, political upheaval often follows, with unpredictable economic consequences.
There’s one mistake that’s particularly common and damaging. Too many observers try to derive economic principles from accounting principles. This is flat-out wrong. The reason is simple: Economics is not accounting. Economists try to understand the causal relationships in commerce and government. Accountants document stocks and flows in an orderly fashion. Economics obviously makes use of accounting, and accounting can be improved through knowledge of economics, but they’re not the same thing.
The most egregious abuses of economics that we see today start with an accounting identity — a true statement or equation — but end with an absurd economic claim. Importantly, an identity is true by construction. Based on the definitions of the variables, the formulation must be so. But it doesn’t say anything about the real world. It certainly doesn’t capture the causal relationships among those variables.