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IB DP Economics Study Notes

3.6.1 Types of Fiscal Policy

Fiscal policy is pivotal in managing economic stability and growth. It is characterised by manipulations in government spending and taxation to influence economic conditions. Here, we explore the nuanced variations of fiscal policy, concentrating on expansionary and contractionary approaches and their integral components. Moreover, understanding the limitations of fiscal policy is essential in assessing its effectiveness and constraints.

A diagram illustrating the tools of fiscal policy

Image courtesy of thebalancemoney

Expansionary Fiscal Policy


Expansionary fiscal policy seeks to stimulate economic activity by increasing government spending, reducing taxes, or a combination of both, predominantly implemented during economic recessions or downturns to encourage growth.

A flowchart illustrating the expansionary fiscal policy

Image courtesy of economicsonline

Government Spending

  • Infrastructure Investment: Governments can elevate economic vitality by financing infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and schools. This not only generates employment but also fosters an environment conducive to business activities and improves overall productivity.
  • Subsidies and Grants: By amplifying subsidies and grants, governments can incentivise businesses to invest and expand, aiding sectors that are crucial for economic stability and growth. By amplifying subsidies and grants, governments can incentivise businesses to invest and expand, aiding sectors that are crucial for economic stability and growth.
  • Social Programmes: Heightening expenditure on social welfare programmes such as unemployment benefits, healthcare, and education, augments household incomes and, subsequently, consumption levels, promoting economic activity.


  • Reducing Income Tax: When the government lowers income tax rates, disposable income rises, allowing consumers to spend more on goods and services, thereby fuelling economic growth.
  • Decreasing Corporate Tax: Lower corporate tax rates can spur investments by businesses, as it improves profitability and leaves companies with more resources to expand operations.
  • Lowering Indirect Taxes: A reduction in indirect taxes like Value Added Tax (VAT) makes goods and services less expensive, promoting consumer spending and stimulating demand.


  • Economic Growth: By bolstering demand, expansionary fiscal policy can drive economic growth and alleviate unemployment.
  • Job Creation: Proactive government spending and tax reductions can catalyse employment opportunities in various sectors.
  • Inflationary Pressure: Although expansionary policies are essential during recessions, they can potentially lead to inflation during economic booms due to excess demand, necessitating balanced implementation. An understanding of automatic vs discretionary fiscal policy can help in applying the right measures at appropriate times.
A graph of expansionary fiscal policy

A graph illustrating expansionary fiscal policy.

Image courtesy of economicshelp

Contractionary Fiscal Policy


Contractionary fiscal policy, in contrast, seeks to decelerate economic activity by decreasing government spending or raising taxes, generally applied to counter inflation during economic booms.

A flowchart illustrating the contractionary fiscal policy

Image courtesy of economicsonline

Government Spending

  • Reduction in Public Services: Curtailing expenditure on public services and welfare programmes can contract overall economic activity, controlling excessive growth and inflation.
  • Decrease in Subsidies: A contraction in government subsidies can elevate costs for businesses, potentially hindering investments and expansion initiatives.
  • Spending Cuts: General spending cuts across various sectors reduce economic activity and demand, curbing inflationary pressures.


  • Increasing Income Tax: Elevated income tax rates diminish disposable income, consequently reducing consumer spending and aggregate demand.
  • Raising Corporate Tax: Higher corporate tax rates can restrain business investments and expansion due to reduced profitability.
  • Increasing Indirect Taxes: Augmented indirect taxes escalate the prices of goods and services, suppressing consumer spending and demand.


  • Inflation Control: Contractionary fiscal policy is instrumental in curbing inflation by moderating aggregate demand.
  • Economic Slowdown: While controlling inflation, it can also lead to economic slowdowns, hence requiring judicious application.
  • Budget Surpluses: This policy can generate government surpluses which can be utilised to repay public debt.
A graph of contractionary fiscal policy

A graph illustrating contractionary fiscal policy.

Image courtesy of economicshelp

Expansionary vs Contractionary Fiscal Policy: Application

Economic Cycles

  • Governments deploy expansionary fiscal policies during downturns to revitalise the economy and contractionary fiscal policies during booms to moderate growth and curb inflation.
  • Identifying the apt phase of the economic cycle for implementing respective policies is crucial to avoid economic imbalances.
A diagram illustrating the use of fiscal policy

Image courtesy of sketchbubble

Time Lags

  • The duration between identifying economic issues and applying fiscal measures (Implementation Lag) and the delay between the policy’s implementation and its impact (Impact Lag) can greatly influence the effectiveness and relevance of the policy.

Policy Coordination

  • Aligning fiscal policy with monetary policy is critical to evade conflicting objectives. A mismatch, like expansionary fiscal and contractionary monetary policies together, can counteract and nullify expected outcomes.

Sustainability and Debt

  • Excessive reliance on expansionary fiscal policy can escalate public debt, compromising long-term economic stability, necessitating a balanced and sustainable approach to fiscal manoeuvres.

Automatic Stabilisers


Automatic stabilisers refer to in-built government provisions that spontaneously alter fiscal policy in sync with economic fluctuations, requiring no explicit intervention. These mechanisms are crucial for mitigating the impact of government and market failures.


  • Tax Revenues and Unemployment Benefits serve as stabilisers, acting contractionary during booms and expansionary during recessions by automatically adjusting tax collections and welfare spending.


  • They play a crucial role in mitigating the volatility of economic cycles, fostering stable economic environments by auto-adjusting to economic conditions.

Policy Implications and Considerations

  • While fiscal policy is a powerful tool for economic modulation, it necessitates meticulous analysis, precise timing, and responsible execution to avert adverse repercussions like unchecked inflation or burgeoning public debt.
  • It’s imperative to comprehend the multifaceted interplays of economic, external, and policy elements to frame policies that are harmonious, adaptable, and conducive to the nation’s economic well-being.

Policy Limitations

  • Policy effectiveness is often encumbered by economic, political, and institutional constraints, mandating astute navigation and application to derive optimal benefits.

In this exploration of fiscal policy, we’ve delved into its diverse facets, illustrating how judicious implementation can be instrumental in maintaining economic equilibrium and fostering sustained growth.


The crowding-out effect refers to the potential of expansionary fiscal policy, particularly increased government borrowing, to raise interest rates and reduce private investment. When the government borrows more, it can lead to higher interest rates as it competes with the private sector for available funds. This increased cost of borrowing can deter private investment, potentially neutralising the stimulative effect of the government's increased spending or tax reductions. Hence, while the intention of expansionary fiscal policy is to stimulate economic activity, the crowding-out effect can undermine its overall effectiveness.

Fiscal policy can help in mitigating structural unemployment through targeted government spending on education and training programs. Structural unemployment arises due to mismatches between the skills of the unemployed and the skills demanded by available jobs. By investing in education and training, fiscal policy can help equip the workforce with the requisite skills to meet the demands of evolving industries. However, addressing structural unemployment thoroughly also necessitates comprehensive structural reforms and adjustments in labour market policies and regulations, going beyond mere fiscal interventions.

Fiscal and monetary policies are complementary tools used to stabilise the economy. Fiscal policy, managed by the government, involves adjustments in spending and taxation, while monetary policy, overseen by the central bank, involves managing the money supply and interest rates. In times of economic downturns, combining expansionary fiscal policy (increased spending or reduced taxes) with expansionary monetary policy (lowering interest rates or increasing money supply) can be particularly effective in stimulating economic activity. Conversely, during inflationary periods, contractionary fiscal and monetary policies can be employed synergistically to cool off the economy. Balancing both policies is vital for maintaining economic stability and achieving macroeconomic objectives.

Timing is paramount in fiscal policy due to the existence of inside and outside lags. Policy changes don’t have immediate effects; there’s usually a delay between policy implementation and the resulting impact on the economy. Inside lags are the delays in implementing policy changes due to the time it takes to recognise economic trends, formulate policies, and enact them. Outside lags are the delays between the implementation of policies and their impact on the economy. Misjudged timing can lead to policies being counterproductive, exacerbating economic fluctuations instead of smoothing them.

Fiscal policy has substantial long-term impacts on economic growth. Utilising expansionary fiscal policy, which involves increased government spending or reduced taxes, can boost overall economic activity by enhancing aggregate demand. However, this approach can lead to higher deficits and accumulating public debt. In the long run, high debt levels can result in increased borrowing costs and reduced public investment, potentially stifling economic growth. Conversely, prudent fiscal policy, balancing spending and taxation, fosters a stable economic environment conducive to investment and innovation, underpinning sustainable long-term economic growth.

Practice Questions

Distinguish between expansionary and contractionary fiscal policy and illustrate how each impacts government spending and taxation.

Expansionary fiscal policy aims to stimulate economic activity and is typically employed during economic recessions. It involves increasing government spending and/or decreasing taxation, which boosts aggregate demand, disposable income, and overall economic activity. For example, increased spending on infrastructure projects can generate employment and spur economic growth. Conversely, contractionary fiscal policy aims to slow economic activity, primarily used during economic booms to curb inflation. It involves reducing government spending and/or increasing taxes, consequently decreasing aggregate demand and cooling off the economy, aiding in inflation control.

How do automatic stabilisers play a role in fiscal policy, and why are they important in managing economic fluctuations?

Automatic stabilisers are inherent fiscal mechanisms that automatically adjust to economic conditions without explicit government intervention, such as tax revenues and unemployment benefits. In economic downturns, they act in an expansionary manner as tax revenues decrease and unemployment benefits increase, helping to alleviate economic hardship. Conversely, during economic booms, they act contractionarily, with increased tax revenues and decreased unemployment spending, curbing excessive economic growth. These stabilisers are crucial as they help mitigate the amplitude of economic fluctuations, providing inherent economic stability and reducing the need for active policy interventions.

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Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

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