Contra cyclical Fiscal policy

21st January 2021 1 By indiafreenotes

Government’s fiscal policy has big role in stabilizing the economy during business cycles. The two important phases of business cycles are boom and recession. A recession should not be allowed to grow into a deep recession. Similarly, a boom should not explode bigger. We may say that amplifying the business cycle is dangerous (growing boom and deepening recession).

Practically fiscal policy responses using taxation and expenditure can go in two ways in response to the business cycle: Countercyclical and procyclical.

Countercyclical fiscal policy

Procyclical and countercyclical variables are variables that fluctuate in a way that is positively or negatively correlated with business cycle fluctuations in gross domestic product (GDP). The scope of the concept may differ between the context of macroeconomic theory and that of economic policy–making.

The concept is often encountered in the context of a government’s approach to spending and taxation. A ‘procyclical fiscal policy’ can be summarised simply as governments choosing to increase government spending and reduce taxes during an economic expansion, but reduce spending and increase taxes during a recession. A ‘countercyclical’ fiscal policy takes the opposite approach: reducing spending and raising taxes during a boom period, and increasing spending and cutting taxes during a recession.

A counter-cyclical fiscal policy refers to strategy by the government to counter boom or recession through fiscal measures. It works against the ongoing boom or recession trend; thus, trying to stabilize the economy. Understandably, countercyclical fiscal policy works in two different direction during these two phases.

Countercyclical fiscal policy during recession

Recession is a business cycle situation where there is slowing demand and falling growth in the economy. Here, the Government’s responsibility is to generate demand by fine-tuning taxation and expenditure policies. Reducing taxes and increasing expenditure will help to create demand and producing upswing in the economy.

Countercyclical fiscal policy during boom

In the case of boom, economic activities will be on upswing. Amplifying the boom is disastrous as it may create inflation and debt crisis and the government’s responsibility here is to bring down the pace of economic activities. Increasing taxes and reducing public expenditure will make boom mild. Thus, slowing down demand should be the nature of countercyclical fiscal policy during boom.

Procyclical fiscal policy

Procyclical is the opposite of countercyclical. Here, fiscal policy goes in line with the current mood of the business cycle; amplifying them. For example, during the time of boom, government makes high expenditure and doesn’t hike taxes. Thus, boom grows further. Such a policy is dangerous and brings instability in the economy.

Boom: total government spending as a percentage of GDP goes up and tax rates go down, increasing government deficit.

Recession: total government spending as a percentage of GDP goes down and tax rates go up, decreasing government deficit.

So procyclical fiscal policy is undesirable for the economy.

History shows that governments follow often procyclical fiscal policy more during boom. Such a situation increases government debt and creates inflationary pressure especially in developing countries.

Economic policy making


Procyclical has a different meaning in the context of economic policy. In this context, it refers to any aspect of economic policy that could magnify economic or financial fluctuations. Of course, since the effects of particular policies are often uncertain or disputed, a policy will be often procyclical, countercyclical or acyclical according to the view of the one judging it.

Thus, the financial regulations of the Basel II Accord have been criticized for their possible procyclicality. The accord requires banks to increase their capital ratios when they face greater risks. Unfortunately, this may require them to lend less during a recession or a credit crunch, which could aggravate the downturn. A similar criticism has been directed at fair value accounting rules. The effect of the single Eurozone interest rate on the relatively high-inflation countries in the Eurozone periphery is also pro-cyclical, leading to very low or even negative real interest rates during an upturn which magnifies the boom (e.g. ‘Celtic Tiger’ upturn in Ireland) and property and asset price bubbles whose subsequent bust magnifies the downturns.


Conversely, an economic or financial policy is called countercyclical if it works against the cyclical tendencies in the economy. That is, countercyclical policies are ones that cool down the economy when it is in an upswing, and stimulate the economy when it is in a downturn.

Keynesian economics advocates the use of automatic and discretionary countercyclical policies to lessen the impact of the business cycle. One example of an automatically countercyclical fiscal policy is progressive taxation. By taxing a larger proportion of income when the economy expands, a progressive tax tends to decrease demand when the economy is booming, thus reining in the boom. Other schools of economic thought, such as new classical macroeconomics, hold that countercyclical policies may be counterproductive or destabilizing, and therefore favor a laissez-faire fiscal policy as a better method for maintaining an overall robust economy. When the government adopts a countercyclical fiscal policy in response to a threat of recession the government might increase infrastructure spending.

Business cycle theory


In business cycle theory and finance, any economic quantity that is positively correlated with the overall state of the economy is said to be procyclical. That is, any quantity that tends to increase in expansion and tend to decrease in a recession is classified as procyclical. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an example of a procyclical economic indicator. Many stock prices are also procyclical because they tend to increase when the economy is growing quickly.


Conversely, any economic quantity that is negatively correlated with the overall state of the economy is said to be countercyclical. That is, quantities that tend to increase when the overall economy is slowing down are classified as ‘countercyclical’. Unemployment is an example of a countercyclical variable.[4] Similarly, business failures and stock market prices tend to be countercyclical. In finance, an asset that tends to do well while the economy as a whole is doing poorly is referred to as countercyclical, and could be for example a business or a financial instrument whose value is derived from sales of an inferior good.