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CEP discussion paper

Fiscal Multipliers over the Business Cycle


This paper illustrates why fiscal policy becomes more effective as unemployment rises in recessions. The theory is based on the equilibrium unemployment model of Michaillat (forthcoming), in which jobs are rationed in recessions. Fiscal policy takes the form of government spending on public-sector jobs. Recessions are periods of acute job shortage without much competition for workers among recruiting firms; hiring in the public sector does not crowd out hiring in the private sector much; therefore fiscal policy reduces unemployment effectively. Formally the fiscal multiplier—the reduction in unemployment rate achieved by spending one dollar on public-sector jobs—is countercyclical. An implication is that available estimates of the fiscal multiplier, which measure the average effect of fiscal policy over the business cycle, do not apply in recessions because the multiplier is much higher in recessions than on average.


Pascal Michaillat

24 January 2012     Paper Number CEPDP1115

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This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.