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terça-feira, 21 de maio de 2019

Os ciclos economicos nos EUA: uma recessao a cada sete meses - Heather Boushey (Brookings)

Recession ready: Fiscal policies to stabilize the American economy


A constant in the history of economics is that countries encounter recessions. Since World War II, the U.S. economy has been in a recession for about one of every seven months and for at least one month in roughly one-third of the years over that period. Recessions have many causes—financial markets crashing, monetary policy tightening, consumers cutting spending, firms lowering investment, oil prices shifting—but at some point, economic expansions end and the economy begins to contract.
Recession Ready book coverThis volume lays out a set of changes to fiscal programs to improve the policy response to a recession in the United States. It starts from three main premises, which are described in more detail in the following chapter:
  1. First, recessions are costly. Individuals lose jobs and income. The economy wastes resources and can sometimes even face a permanently lower output path.
  2. Second, fiscal policy is an effective aspect of the government’s part of a response to a recession. Expansionary fiscal policy can increase output; it can increase the utilization of resources; and in particular, when monetary policy has reduced interest rates to zero, it can meaningfully shift the economy’s trajectory upwards.
  3. Third, increasing the automatic nature of fiscal policy would be helpful. Increasing spending quickly could lead to a shallower and shorter recession.
Using evidence-based automatic “triggers” to alter the course of spending would be a more-effective way to deliver stimulus to the economy than waiting for policymakers to act. Such well-crafted automatic stabilizers are the best way to deliver fiscal stimulus in a timely, targeted, and temporary way. There will likely still be a need for discretionary policy; but by automating certain parts of the response, the United States can improve its macroeconomic outcomes.
The first chapter lays out the case for automatic stabilizers in detail. An important point is that we have sufficient data to discern when a recession is starting in real time, which is a solid foundation for implementing automatic stabilizers. Some stabilizers respond as underlying fundamentals shift—for example, regular unemployment insurance spending rises as more workers lose their jobs, so policymakers do not need to switch on this policy. But one can also tell when a recession is unfolding and more-robust measures are necessary—such as extended unemployment benefits. The policy rule articulated by Claudia Sahm in this volume would generally go into effect within a few months of the start of a recession. A rule like this is both quite timely and far more effective at signaling recessions than other metrics. In a subsequent chapter, Matt Fiedler, Jason Furman, and Wilson Powell III suggest triggers that could be used at the state level as well.
Although automatic stabilizers do exist, they are relatively small in the United States compared with those in other countries. At the same time, there have been frequent discretionary policy changes made in the face of economic downturns to push more money into the economy via tax cuts, direct payments, or increased spending. In the second chapter of this volume, Louise Sheiner and Michael Ng highlight the extent of the U.S. budget’s cyclicality over time. Whereas federal taxes provide a substantial amount of automatic stabilization—and discretionary federal policy is also strongly countercyclical—state and local fiscal policy is slightly procyclical.
The remaining six chapters of the book make concrete proposals for adjusting U.S. fiscal policy to expand the implementation of automatic stabilizers and make them more effective. The first two proposals entail creating new policies that are based on evidence from discretionary policies used in prior recessions. Both aim to avoid damaging contractionary responses to recessions, first on the part of households, and second on the part of state governments.
In the third chapter, Claudia Sahm suggests making an automatic direct payment to qualified households during economic downturns. Such payments have been used before in a variety of ways, through either temporary tax cuts or direct payments, but not in an automated fashion. Sahm demonstrates the effectiveness of such programs and shows how an automated set of payments could have been made earlier and more predictably than discretionary payments in the past. Given the large share of consumption in the U.S. economy and the propensity for consumption to fall during a recession, such a policy could be an important way to combat any sizable fall in demand in the economy.
In the fourth chapter, Matt Fiedler, Jason Furman, and Wilson Powell III suggest a way to provide funds to states to avoid sharp, procyclical cutbacks at the state and local levels. During a recession, the federal government is in principle able to counteract declines in economic activity by increasing spending, even while revenues decline—making up the difference with additional borrowing. However, a large portion of U.S. public spending occurs at the state and local levels, where borrowing is much more difficult and declines in tax revenues generally lead to declines in spending. Fiedler, Furman, and Powell address this concern in the context of Federal Medical Assistance Percentage formula funds, which were adjusted during the Great Recession and could be automatically adjusted to provide state-level fiscal support during future recessions.
There are also several current programs that could be adjusted to improve their effectiveness as automatic stabilizers. In the fifth chapter, Andrew Haughwout proposes setting up and maintaining a list of potential transportation infrastructure projects whose funding could be ramped up during downturns. Though Congress has often used transportation infrastructure as a method to generate spending during a downturn, this process could instead be automated by changing the spending rules for the BUILD program (formerly the TIGER grant program) so that the federal government would fund more projects during downturns and fewer during a boom. Because BUILD is constantly awarding funds, states would have projects ready to be funded and would be familiar with the funding stream, allowing for timely spending.
The programs that make up the social safety net constitute an important set of automatic stabilizers in the current U.S. policy mix. Because these programs provide resources to people with little or no income, the need for the benefits they provide rises along with the unemployment rate. As currently implemented, unemployment benefit spending and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) spending automatically rise as more people are unemployed or as their incomes fall. These programs, along with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—which is currently capped in nominal dollars by federal law—could be restructured in ways that would help them accomplish their core goals and serve as better stabilizers for the economy.
The unemployment insurance (UI) system is a core part of the U.S. response to both individual employment loss and overall labor market disruptions. By insuring workers against job loss, UI partially protects them from important risks while also mitigating the decline in consumption that occurs during a recession. In the sixth chapter, Gabriel Chodorow-Reich and John Coglianese propose changes to improve the take-up of UI, increase its benefits during recessions, and make its extended benefit formulas more responsive to changes in the labor market. These changes would enhance the already sizable role that UI plays in stabilization policy.
After federal welfare reform of 1996, the federal program that provides cash to families in need was block-granted, and funds were capped at their 1997 level. The newly created TANF program included a small emergency fund, which has been insufficient to allow TANF to function as needed for families or provide any cushion to the economy in a downturn. In the seventh chapter, Indivar Dutta-Gupta suggests shifting the structure of TANF so that it can expand in downturns as need rises and thus play a countercyclical role both for households and the economy. He also reviews the experience of TANF job subsidies enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and proposes expanding this approach, explaining how employment subsidies can play an important role as part of an overall policy response to economic downturns.
SNAP is the nation’s most-important food support program—and it is also an automatic stabilizer that supports the economy during downturns. In the eighth chapter, Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach propose reforms to SNAP that would make it a more-effective automatic stabilizer and increase its ability to protect families during downturns. In particular, they focus on ensuring that families in need of food support are not tied to work requirements that may be impossible to meet in an economic downturn; they also suggest increasing SNAP benefits during a recession.
Overall, this set of proposals builds on the best available evidence and analysis. They use programs that have been effective parts of U.S. fiscal policy and have either been an important part of discretionary or automatic spending in prior downturns. The proposals suggest a clear path toward improved automatic stabilizers for the U.S. economy. These programs already exist or have been pursued in the past, suggesting they are feasible and realistic. Though these policies could be implemented separately, there is an advantage in thinking of them as a package. As described in the first chapter, these policies would affect the economy at different points in time, would assist different types of households, and would address differences in economic conditions across places.
Direct payments are fast and can be executed on a large scale, but are not targeted to struggling regions or households. Likewise, though payments to states can stabilize their budgets, they do not necessarily help individuals who have lost their job or lift consumption. Transportation spending is sometimes done over a slightly longer time frame, but this allows continued spending as the economy recovers. Finally, the safety net policies are likely the best targeted, both to individuals and regions, given that their spending rises wherever economic distress is highest. Unemployment insurance is more likely to help middle-income families, while TANF and SNAP are targeted to low-income families. By setting up an array of stabilizers, policymakers can ensure that a wide range of families are supported and that demand in the economy is boosted across a variety of sectors.
Recessions exact a major toll on individuals, families, firms, and budgets throughout the United States. A key aspect of proper macroeconomic policymaking is to minimize losses by responding quickly and effectively to downturns. As discussed in the next chapter, lower interest rates have left the Federal Reserve with less room to cut rates in response to a downturn. This makes it all the more important that policymakers set in place the proper fiscal structures to make sure that fiscal policy plays an active and efficient role in combating recessions.
Economic forecasters rarely correctly call the timing of a recession. Perhaps the one thing they can all agree on, however, is that another economic downturn will come. A crucial part of preparing for the next recession is making sure fiscal policy institutions are ready to provide support when needed to minimize the damage the next recession could do.

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