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Japan’s Fiscal Policy and Fiscal Reconstruction : 

Japan’s Fiscal Policy and Fiscal Reconstruction Toshihiro Ihori University of Tokyo

I. Introduction : 

I. Introduction Japan’s fiscal situation is the worst of the G7 counties now. When national income does not grow much, tax revenue will not increase either. Government spending has been gradually raised due to political pressures of interest groups, resulting in large budget deficits.


This paper will thus evaluate the current growing dependence on government bonds for covering financial deficits, the recent movements of Japanese fiscal reform and debt management policy. We intend to incorporate the political aspect of fiscal policy into these analyses.

Organization of the paper: 

Organization of the paper Section II summarizes Japanese fiscal policy in the recent years. Section III investigates the macroeconomic effects of Japanese fiscal policy in the 1990s. Section IV discusses the soft-budget problem and political constraints in the intergovernmental finance. Section V makes concluding remarks.

II. Japanese Fiscal Policy in the 1990s : 

II. Japanese Fiscal Policy in the 1990s After a "bubble economy" was broken in 1991, natural tax decreases were incurred to generate revenue. At the same time, the politico-economic pressures for larger expenditure budgets and counter-cyclical packages of fiscal measures intensified. However, these counter-cyclical measures were not so effective, resulting in an increase in the fiscal deficit.

III. Macroeconomic Effects of Fiscal Policy : 

III. Macroeconomic Effects of Fiscal Policy Using the VAR method, Ihori, Nakazato, and Kawade (2003) showed that fiscal policies have generated limited effects on output in Japan. Tax policies did not have a stronger effect than changes in government expenditure. The effect of fiscal policies was too marginal to recover macroeconomic activities,

Benefit and cost of fiscal policy: 

Benefit and cost of fiscal policy Public capital was productive but its productivity has declined recently. Results in 1990s suggest that the ‘non-Keynesian’ effect has some relevancy in Japan. When the fiscal situation becomes very serious, fiscal policy may not stimulate private consumption and investment due to the ‘non-Keynesian’ effect.

Political cost of fiscal deficit: 

Political cost of fiscal deficit Prolonged excessive budget deficits are harmful for the economy in the sense that excessive deficits today mean higher political privileges tomorrow, which results in delay of restructuring the fiscal system in a more efficient way in the long run.

IV. Local Interest Groups and Soft-Budget Problem : 

IV. Local Interest Groups and Soft-Budget Problem Politically speaking, since the Hosokawa coalition government decentralization became one of the main issues of the central government politics. During this period reforms towards political and fiscal decentralization gained much popularity.

The “Plan on the Reform of the Three Major Policies” : 

The “Plan on the Reform of the Three Major Policies” This is to allow local government authority to make its own decisions. The decentralization process means that the governance of central government on local governments would weaken. However, the speed of fiscal decentralization has not been high so far. The actual structure of intergovernmental financing does not change much.

intergovernmental financing : 

intergovernmental financing Many local interest groups (or politicians) seek to obtain more money from the central and local governments through a variety of lobbying activities. They may be regarded as one of the most powerful interest groups in Japan. Local residents in Japan have large privileges, reflecting an influential role of their interest groups.

Local Allocation Tax : 

Local Allocation Tax The national government reserves a certain ratio of national tax revenue as a common fund for local governments. It distributes funds to each local government according to their fiscal needs and local revenue sources. The financial resources needed by local bodies are transferred from the national government to local governments.


More representatives in the ruling party, the LDP for postwar period, have been seated for the rural regions. People in the rural regions have more representatives in the ruling party than in the urban regions. The ruling party exerts an influence to decide the national budget. So the representatives for the rural regions, who affected by local interest groups and voters, put political pressure to distribute more grants to the rural regions.


In order to realize successful fiscal reconstruction, the central government needs to restrain lobbying activities of local political groups. Seeking to enhance efficiency and transparency by a new re-assessment system of public works is important to reduce local privileges. Reforming the local allocation tax system so that each local government has to collect taxes to finance its own spending is crucial for solving the soft budget problem.

V. Concluding Remarks : 

V. Concluding Remarks There seem to exist some political constraints to resume fiscal reconstruction attempts from the experience of the failure of the Fiscal Structural Reform Act in 1998. Politicians can accept the idea of fiscal reconstruction only if the real GDP growth rate becomes more than 1% for 4 quarters continuously.

Another political constraint: 

Another political constraint Politicians can accept the idea of fiscal structural reform toward fiscal reconstruction only if the government party occupies majority stably in the Diet, and hence the probability of dropping power is low enough. In the 1990s, especially after 1993, several parties formed a coalition government, and fiscal deficits increased.

Fiscal reconstruction : 

Fiscal reconstruction The budget gap should be reduced gradually over the next eight years, through 2013, to a level at which the budget balance – the balance including the interest and debt servicing – maintained. To this end, the deficit as a percentage of GDP needs to be cut by 1 percentage point each year. This target should be achieved through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Crowding-in effect: 

Crowding-in effect If public policy could crowd in more activities of private agents, it would help to stimulate the overall macroeconomic activities. The role of private initiatives in cooperation activities is becoming important in terms of providing the highly detailed assistance required to meet the diverse needs of people in the developed society, and promptly and flexibly implementing safety-net assistance activities.

Further research topics: (1) Political constraints: 

Further research topics: (1) Political constraints Intergovernmental financing and local interest groups Coalition government and delay of fiscal reform Commitment device and exogenous rule

(2) Macroeconomic effects: 

(2) Macroeconomic effects Non-Keynesian effect Deregulation and macroeconomic activities Multiple-equilibria and crowding-in effect

(3) Reasonable fiscal reconstruction : 

(3) Reasonable fiscal reconstruction Fiscal budget rule Tax reform Public spending Reform of social security

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