As an instrument of macro-economic policy, fiscal policy has been very popular among modern governments. The growing importance of fiscal policy was due to the Great Depression and the development of ‘New Economics’ by Keynes.
In common parlance fiscal policy means the budgetary manipulations affecting the macro economic variables – output, employment, saving, investment etc.
“The term fiscal policy refers to a policy under which the Government uses its expenditure and revenue programmes to produce desirable effects and avoid undesirable effects on the national income, production and employment” – Arthur Smithies
“By fiscal policy is meant the use of public finance or expenditure, taxes, borrowing and financial administration to further our national economic objectives” – Buehler
Fiscal Policy is implemented through fiscal instruments also called ‘fiscal tools’ or fiscal levers: Government expenditure, taxation and borrowing are the fiscal tools.
i) Taxation: Taxes transfer income from the people to the Government. Taxes are either direct or indirect. An increase in tax reduces disposable income. So taxation should be raised to control inflation. During depression, taxes are to be reduced.
ii) Public Expenditure: Public expenditure raises wages and salaries of the employees and thereby the aggregate demand for goods and services. Hence public expenditure is raised to fight recession and reduced to control inflation.
iii) Public debt: When Government borrows by floating a loan, there is transfer of funds from the public to the Government. At the time of interest payment and repayment of public debt, funds are transferred from Government to public.
The Fiscal Policy is useful to achieve the following objectives:
1. Full Employment
Full Employment is the common objective of fiscal policy in both developed and developing countries. Public expenditure on social overheads help to create employment opportunities. In India, public expenditure on rural employment programmes like MGNREGS is aimed at employment generation.
2. Price Stability
Price instability is caused by mismatch between aggregate demand and aggregate supply. Inflation is due to excess demand for goods. If excess demand is caused by Government expenditure in excess of real output, the most effective measure is to cut down public expenditure. Taxation of income is the best measure if excess demand is due to private spending.
Taxation reduces disposable income and so aggregate demand.
To fight depression, the Government needs to increase its spending and reduce taxation.
3. Economic Growth
Fiscal Policy is used to increase the productive capacity of the economy. Tax is to be used as an instrument for encouraging investment. Tax holidays and tax rebates for new industries stimulate investment. Public sector investments are to be increased to fill the gap left by private investment. When resource mobilization through tax measures is inadequate, the Government resorts to borrowing both from internal and external sources to finance growth projects.
4. Equitable distribution
Progressive rates in taxation help to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Similarly progressive rates in public expenditure through welfare schemes such as free education, noon meal for school children and subsidies promote the living standard of poor people.
5. Exchange Stability
Fluctuations in international trade cause movements in exchange rate. Tax concessions and subsidy to export oriented units help to boost exports. Customs duties on import of non-essential items help to cut import bill. The reduction in import duty on import of raw material and machinery enables reduction in cost and make the exports competitive.
6. Capital formation
Capital formation is essential for rapid economic development. Tax relief helps to increase disposable income, savings and thereby capital formation. Government expenditure on infrastructure development like power and transport encourages private investment.
7. Regional balance
Fiscal incentives for industries in the backward regions help to narrow down regional imbalances. Public expenditure may be used to start industrial estates so that industrial activity is stimulated in backward regions.