What is a Contractionary Fiscal Policy?

Osmand Vitez
Osmand Vitez
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Fiscal policy relates to a government’s ability to use expenditures and revenue collection to influence the overall economy. A contractionary fiscal policy allows a government to reduce the growth of an economy by limiting the amount of government expenditures. Most nations track the growth of their economy through the gross domestic product (GDP) measurement. One portion of GDP is government spending. During periods of slow demand or lower supply, a contractionary fiscal policy helps the government to not run up large budget deficits due to lower tax revenue collections.

In most developed countries that operate under a free market economy system, the government does not have the ability to acquire goods through direct action. The government and its agencies must purchase goods or services from the private sector. The government must set aside or appropriate funds for acquiring the items needed to run the government. This fiscal policy involves the use of funds and budgets that lawmakers hope will result in a balanced budget. When revenues begin to fall, a smart or efficient government will develop a contractionary fiscal policy to reduce non-essential expenditures. The purpose of this is to prevent running a deficit and having to borrow money to pay for purchases. Borrowing money — typically through the issuance of government bonds to investors — will result in interest owed to investors. This increases the expenditures for the government and the need to tax citizens more to pay off the debt.

Some governments may decide to raise taxes during a contractionary fiscal policy. Higher tax revenues will help keep the government running without cutting expenses for policies or other needs. A problem with raising taxes as part of a contractionary fiscal policy is that citizens of the country may not be able to pay any more money from their income. Overtaxing citizens will tend to retard the growth of individual income. Individuals will often avoid situations where they could increase their income, in order to avoid the higher taxes associated with current fiscal policy in the nation.

Another factor of a contractionary fiscal policy is to limit transfer payments. Government transfer payments include unemployment insurance, subsidies for housing or payments for the elderly. These reductions are often the least popular options in a contractionary period. Transfer payments do not really provide any benefit to the government, however, which is a reason for limiting these payments to individual citizens. Governments may simply suspend the payment schedule for these items until the government can enter a period of growth to offset the payments.

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Discussion Comments


@ZipLine-- Expansionary and contractionary fiscal policies may do different things, but the objective is the same -- to increase demand, thereby increasing GDP.

Expansionary policy increases spending, while leaving the taxes the same. This increases money supply and demand. Contractionary policies, leave government spending the same and lower taxes, leaving consumer and corporates more money to spend. This again increases demand and the GDP.


@ZipLine-- Good question.

Contractionary fiscal policies are used when the money supply and inflation are high. These may occur due to sudden changes in the global economy or due to a rapidly growing national economy. Economic growth is good, but if it occurs at a very high rate, it will cause inflation to sky-rocket. This will eventually result in other issues like high prices, lower spending power, high exchange rate, more unemployment etc. This is why governments sometimes use contractionary fiscal policies to slow down economic growth.

You actually touched on a good point that from expansionary and contractionary fiscal policies, the former seem to be utilized more often. Of course, this depends on the state of the economy but it may also be due to politics. It's undeniable that politics have to do with fiscal policies. But in general, these policies are determined after an in depth analysis of the economy and whether it's in recession or a boom.


How often do governments use contractionary fiscal policies? I always hear about the government trying to stimulate the economy and increase economic growth and these are expansionary fiscal policies. I've never heard of the opposite being done.

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