Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance

Do you keep a budget based on how much you save and spend? If so, then you and the government are not that different from one another! The government also has a budget balance that it tries to adhere to. However, there are some notable differences between how the government balances its budget and how you may balance your budget. Want to learn more about the cyclically adjusted budget balance? Keep reading on!

Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance

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    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance Definition

    Let's go over the definition of a cyclically adjusted budget balance. A cyclically adjusted budget balance is used to adjust the actual federal budget deficits and surpluses to account for the automatic changes in tax revenues whenever GDP changes.

    In other words, the cyclically adjusted budget measures what the deficit or surplus would have been under current tax rates and spending levels if the economy was at its potential output. By using the cyclically adjusted budget, we can address any recessionary or inflationary periods that occur and affect the budget balance.

    A cyclically adjusted budget balance is used to adjust the actual federal budget deficits and surpluses to account for the automatic changes in tax revenues whenever GDP changes.

    For example, when the economy is in a deficit, it is because government spending is greater than the tax revenue it collects.

    The example above makes sense – spending that is greater than revenue will lead you, or the government in this example, to be in a deficit. However, we should distinguish why deficits happen in the first place. Was it government fiscal policy that caused the deficit? Or was it a recession that caused the deficit?

    A deficit occurs when government spending exceeds tax revenues.

    Likewise, it is helpful to know if a surplus is the result of government fiscal policy or a boom in the economy. Figuring out which entity is responsible for the deficit or surplus is the goal of the cyclically adjusted budget balance!

    A surplus occurs when tax revenue exceeds government spending.

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance Balancing a Budget StudySmarterFig. 1 - Balancing a Budget

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance Formula

    What is the cyclically adjusted budget balance formula? This formula is the same as the budget balance formula; however, the way we view and interpret the formula will differ. The cyclically adjusted budget balance formula is the following:

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\hbox{Tax Revenue}-\hbox{Government Spending}\)

    What does the equation above tell us? The government's savings will be positive if tax revenues are greater than the amount it spends — a surplus. However, the government's savings will be negative if tax revenues are less than the amount it spends — a deficit. We can look at a quick example using the formula above to showcase this phenomenon.

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\hbox{Tax Revenue}-\hbox{Government Spending}\)

    \(\hbox{Tax Revenue is \$500, and Government spending is \$1000}\)

    \(\hbox{Plug in your values.}\)

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\$500-\$1000 \)

    \(\hbox{Subtract.}\)

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\ -$500 \)

    \(\hbox{Therefore, the government has a deficit.}\)

    How does this differ from the traditional budget balance formula? It differs based on how the government obtained its savings. For example, If the government obtained a deficit due to its fiscal policy, then it is a structural budget deficit. However, if the government obtained a deficit due to a downturn in the business cycle, then it is a cyclical deficit.

    We want to distinguish between a government deficit/surplus based on the business cycle or fiscal action. Addressing any recessionary or inflationary period in the economy helps us understand if the government's fiscal policy is balanced, in a surplus, or in a deficit.

    A cyclical deficit occurs due to a recession in the economy.

    Want to learn more about the business cycle and deficits?Check out our articles:

    -Budget Deficit

    -Business Cycle

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance of the United States

    Let's look at an example where the United States should use a cyclically adjusted budget balance. The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic affected every country in the world in many different ways — the economy was not left out of it either. The United States budget deficit in 2020 was $3.1 trillion.1 Without taking into account any external factors, this is quite a large deficit. However, the importance of a cyclically adjusted budget balance is that we do look at external factors for clearer answers on government fiscal policy.

    The United States experienced a recession in 2020 due to the pandemic.2 The budget deficit for the United States is important in its own right, but the budget deficit alone does not tell us how much fiscal policy contributed to the deficit and how much the recession contributed to the deficit. The cyclically adjusted budget balance would correct and adjust for the recession in order to analyze the effects of the United States' fiscal policy on the deficit.

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance of the United States: Example

    Let's look at a chart of the United States federal budget deficit unadjusted and adjusted for economic shocks.

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance United States Federal Budget Deficit StudySmarterFig. 2 - United States Federal Budget Deficit (Adjusted and Unadjusted). Source: Congressional Budget Office3

    What does the chart above tell us? The chart above shows the United States federal budget deficit from 2004-2007. It shows us the deficit for each year before it was cyclically adjusted and after it was cyclically adjusted. Recall that once the deficit is cyclically adjusted, what is "leftover" is the budget deficit that was caused by strictly fiscal policy. As we can see, there is not a massive difference between the budget deficit before and after adjusting. However, it's still important to see how much of the deficit was caused by fiscal policy and how much was caused by economic shocks.

    Structural vs. Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance

    What is a structural vs. cyclically adjusted budget balance? We can view both definitions in terms of deficits for clarity.

    A structural deficit is a deficit that occurs due to the government's fiscal policies.

    A structural deficit occurs due to increased government spending and low tax revenue.

    For example, recall the budget balance formula:

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\hbox{Tax Revenue}-\hbox{Government Spending}\)

    If the government's spending is greater than the tax revenue it collects, then it will be in a structural deficit. Why will this occur? The government's fiscal policy may consist of lower tax rates for all income brackets and higher spending on government programs. The tax rate can be so low that the tax revenue never exceeds the amount the government is spending! This is a structural deficit since the government's fiscal policies are causing the deficit.

    What about a cyclical deficit? A cyclical deficit will occur as a result of the economy. Rather than the deficit occurring because of fiscal policy (structural deficit), it occurs because of a recession in the economy.

    Therefore, a cyclically adjusted budget balance can tell us what the structural budget balance is! Recall that a budget balance is comprised of fiscal policy and economic factors (recessions/booms). A cyclically adjusted budget balance shows us what the budget balance would be without any economic shocks/booms. A structural budget balance shows how only fiscal policy affected the budget balance. Therefore, a cyclically adjusted budget balance will reveal what the structural budget balance is.

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget vs. Actual Budget

    What is the difference between a cyclically adjusted budget vs. an actual budget? The actual budget is best expressed through the budget balance equation:

    \(\hbox{Savings}=\hbox{Tax Revenue}-\hbox{Government Spending}\)

    The actual budget merely looks at the tax revenue minus the government spending without distinguishing between a structural or cyclical deficit/surplus. Recall that a structural deficit is a deficit that occurs due to government spending, whereas a cyclical deficit is a deficit that occurs due to a recession in the economy. The actual budget combines both the structural and cyclical deficit/surplus to obtain total savings for the government.

    Simply put, the actual budget is the budget balance without any corrections for structural and cyclical deficits/surpluses; the cyclically adjusted budget does make corrections to any deficit or surplus to account for the automatic changes in tax revenues whenever GDP changes.

    Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance - Key takeaways

    • A cyclically adjusted budget balance is used to adjust the actual federal budget deficits and surpluses to account for the automatic changes in tax revenues whenever GDP changes.
    • The formula for the budget balance is the following:\(\hbox{Savings}=\hbox{Tax Revenue}-\hbox{Government Spending}\)
    • A cyclical deficit occurs due to a recession in the economy; a structural deficit occurs due to increased government spending and low tax revenue.
    • The structural budget balance only looks at fiscal policies affecting the budget balance.
    • The actual budget combines both the structural and cyclical deficit/surplus to get the savings of the economy.

    References

    1. The Federal Budget in Fiscal Year 2020, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/57170#:~:text=The%20federal%20deficit%20in%202020,percent%20of%20gross%20domestic%20product.
    2. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Tracking the Post-Great Recession Economy, https://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/tracking-the-post-great-recession-economy#:~:text=This%20measure%2C%20known%20as%20U,7.0%20percent%20in%20April%202022.
    3. Congressional Budget Office, The Cyclically Adjusted and Standardized Budget Measures, https://budgetcounsel.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/cbo-report-on-cyclical-budget-deficit.pdf
    Frequently Asked Questions about Cyclically Adjusted Budget Balance

    What is the cyclically adjusted budget balance?

    It is used to adjust actual federal budget deficits and surpluses to account for the changes in tax revenues that happen automatically whenever GDP changes.

    What does it mean to consider the cyclically adjusted budget balance?

    It means that it accounts for any changes in tax revenues as a result of a recessionary/inflationary period.

    Why is the cyclically adjusted budget balance a better measure of the long-run sustainability?

    In the long-run, GDP tends to be aligned toward potential output, and the cyclically adjusted budget balance is an estimate of what the budget balance would be if real GDP were equal to potential output.

    How does the cyclically adjusted budget balance help to formulate policy?


    We can see the effects of fiscal policy on the budget balance without conflating it with any recessionary/inflationary periods in the economy.

    What information does a cyclically adjusted budget provide?

    The information provided is how much fiscal policy is responsible for the deficit or surplus in the economy.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    If the government spends more than it receives in tax revenue, then it has a:

    If the government spends less than it receives in tax revenue, then it has a:

    True or False: a structural deficit looks at how a recession caused a deficit in the economy. 

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