Research Discussion Paper – RDP 9507 Macroeconomic Policies and Growth


While economic theory is largely mute on the question of whether macroeconomic policies affect long-run growth, an examination of the experience of different countries over various periods and the policies they pursued, lends strong support to the idea that macro policies do play a role in the growth process.

A macroeconomic policy framework conducive to growth can be characterised by five features: a low and predictable inflation rate; an appropriate real interest rate; a stable and sustainable fiscal policy; a competitive and predictable real exchange rate; and a balance of payments that is regarded as viable. Countries with these macroeconomic characteristics tend to grow faster than those without them, though there are many individual cases of both developing and developed countries suggesting that satisfying only some of these conditions does not sustain strong growth. It is also important to recognise that the direction of causation is somewhat ambiguous: while good macro outcomes should be conducive to growth, strong growth is also conducive to good macroeconomic outcomes.

The paper presents a wide-ranging examination of both theoretical and empirical evidence on the many ways macroeconomic policies may influence economic growth. Given monetary policy's crucial role in determining the inflation rate in the longer run, there is a particular emphasis on the relationship between inflation and growth.

The following five broad conclusions are drawn. First, although growth models assign a major role to capital accumulation, there is little evidence that aggregate investment yields excess returns, and so special policy incentives to boost aggregate investment appear inappropriate. Second, countries with low national saving invest less and grow more slowly than they would if saving were higher. Ultimately, the extent to which a country can rely on foreign savings to fund domestic investment and growth depends on the rate of capital inflow the market accepts as sustainable. For Australia, with abundant natural resources and a stable political environment, this may be higher than for many other capital importing countries. Third, declining national saving rates in many industrial countries are primarily a consequence of lower government saving, suggesting a need for reduced fiscal deficits. In Australia, however, private savings have also fallen substantially, suggesting a possible role for specific incentives to boost private savings.

Fourth, when economies are near potential, short-run rises in output seem to be more inflationary than falls in output are disinflationary. This implies that macroeconomic policy acting pre-emptively to counter expected future demand pressures and quickly mitigating the effects of unexpected shocks has a positive effect on the level of output, compared with a more hesitant approach acting only when demand pressures have appeared. Further, provided inflation is kept close to its target in the medium term, policy which tolerates some short-term deviations of inflation from its target reduces fluctuations in real output and generates a higher long-run output level than a policy with the sole goal of keeping inflation close to its target.

Finally, although most economists believe even moderate rates of inflation adversely affect growth, unambiguous evidence has been difficult to come by. There is still professional disagreement on the robustness of the empirical evidence, but it does appear that higher inflation, and the associated increased uncertainty about future inflation, adversely affects growth in the industrial countries. The gains from lower inflation appear to exceed the initial costs of reducing inflation within about a decade.

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