Tag Archives | GDP

Primer on deficits

Today’s budgetary deficits are tomorrow’s taxes. Therefore, it is important to understand what deficit means, and how India has performed on this metric over the past few years. This post provides a primer on this topic.

Budgetary deficit occurs when the expenditures[1] are more than receipts (This is true for homes and nations).There are three types of deficits

  • Revenue Deficit
  • Fiscal Deficit
  • Primary Deficit


Revenue deficit is defined as the difference between total revenue expenditure and total revenue receipts. The revenue deficit signals how much the government is spending when compared to its earnings to perform its day-to-day activities(like paying salaries etc.)

Revenue receipts are those government receipts which neither reduce assets nor create future liabilities. These are proceeds from taxes, interest and dividend from government investment, cess, and other receipts for services rendered by the government. Revenue expenditure includes those expenditures that neither creates assets nor reduces liabilities. These are expenditures on salaries of government employees, subsidies, grants (to state government and other entities), interest payments and pensions. These expenditures are short term and recurring in nature and mostly meant to ensure the daily functioning of the government.

Given this, revenue deficit shows how much the government is borrowing to finance its daily functioning. In the past few years, eliminating the revenue deficit has been the priority for both the Union and State governments. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 recommended elimination of revenue deficit by 2009.

Revenue deficit = Total revenue expenditure – Total revenue receipts

Fiscal Deficit is defined as the difference between total expenditure and total receipts (excluding borrowings) ie., any loans received as money are not counted as receipts.. Therefore fiscal deficit actually represents the amount of borrowing that the government must make to meet its expenses(this is the reason why the fiscal deficit is the most discussed number and a keenly observed number during the budget and by commentators.

Fiscal Deficit = Total expenditure – Total receipts(excluding borrowings)

Primary deficit is defined as the difference between fiscal deficit and interest payments ie., if the primary deficit is zero then, the governments borrowings will be used just to meet its previous borrowings. If the primary deficit is positive and significant, it feeds back into the interest payments in the following years, as fresh debt is created, for which interest has to be paid.

Primary deficit = Fiscal deficit – interest payments


deficit gdp

[1] There are two types of expenditures: Revenue expenditure and Capital Expenditure. Revenue expenditure is a cost that is charged to expense as soon as the cost is incurred.

Varun Ramachandra and Anupam Manur are Policy Analysts at Takshashila Institution. Varun tweets at @_quale and Anupam tweets at @anupammanur

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Potential Output – Importance and Estimation

Potential output is of vital importance in macroeconomic policy making, despite imperfections in its estimation.

In order to have an effective monetary and fiscal policy, policy makers need to gauge the level of economic activity in the economy and whether this level is consistent with the potential level. In economic terms, policy makers look at the real output and its deviation from potential output, called the output gap. Potential output – the trend growth in the productive capacity of an economy – is an estimate of the level of GDP attainable when the economy is operating at a high rate of resource use.  This is not a technical ceiling on the maximum level of output attainable. Rather, it is an estimate of maximum sustainable output – output that can be sustained in the long run without leading to macroeconomic instability.

While this may seem like a purely academic and statistical exercise, in reality, understanding and proper estimation of potential output has grave consequences for the economy. If actual output is lower than potential output, that is, if the output gap is negative, then the economy is performing below its potential – resources and capacity are underutilized and unemployment is higher than what it should be. On the other hand if the output gap is positive (actual output is higher than potential output), the economy is overheated, demand exceeds supply and inflationary pressures on the economy is high. As is self-evident, neither state is desirable. The manifestation of the output gap is usually through inflation in the economy. A positive output gap results in higher inflation and a negative output gap results in deflation.

For policy makers, therefore, understanding potential output and the output gap is of crucial importance. Negative output gap should ideally be followed by an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy, so as to increase spending and demand in the economy, which will result in actual output converging towards potential output. A contractionary monetary and fiscal policy is required in the case of a positive output gap to reduce the demand in the economy and to provide liquidity to the suppliers to increase their production.

Many central bankers around the world indeed use the concept of potential output in determining the rate of interest. In deciding the policy rate, central bankers use a popular rule of thumb called the Taylor rule, which reduces the complexities in choosing the interest rate to a formula that incorporates the difference between the actual and targeted inflation rate and the difference between the actual and potential GDP[1].

Figure 1: Showing the Real potential GDP and Real GDP for the US economy on the left scale and the rate of inflation on the right scale for the period 1995-2015.

Figure 1: Showing the Real potential GDP and Real GDP for the US economy on the left scale and the rate of inflation on the right scale for the period 1995-2015.

As can be seen from the graph, real GDP has exceeded potential GDP during the boom years in the late 1990s and has significantly fallen below the potential GDP after the recession off 2007. It can also be seen that inflation reacts to the output gap. Inflation is above the targeted rate of 2% when output gap is positive and vice versa.

Estimating Potential Output

Despite its overwhelming importance to policy making, there seems to be no consensus amongst economists regarding the best method to estimate potential output. Different countries and organizations use different methods based on country specific circumstances. However, no method has been able to provide consistently robust estimates and each method has its own set of lacunae.

The various methods of estimating potential GDP can be broadly classified into two categories: the production function approach and the statistical approach. The first approach, followed by the Congressional Budget Office, USA, relates the level of output to level of technology and factor inputs, namely capital and labour. Potential Output, thus, would be the output if both labour and capital are fully utilized in an efficient manner. This manner would also require certain assumptions regarding the specific form of the production to be made. Usually, a constant returns to scale production function, such as the Cobb-Douglas production function, is used.

However, for emerging market economies, where reliable data on labour and capital is unavailable, time-series statistical techniques have become quite popular. A widely used approach in the Indian context is the Hodrick-Prescott filter, which decomposes the actual real GDP into two components – a trend and a cyclical component – and potential output is proxied by the trend component.  In other words, the GDP growth rate has an underlying structural component (trend) and another component that is seemingly random due to natural variations in the business cycles and external demand and supply shocks (cyclical). The purpose of the statistical tools is to remove the cyclical part and project the long run potential GDP based on the trend growth rate.

Figure 2: Estimates of output gap in India. Source: Monetary Policy Report, April 2015, RBI publications.

Figure 2: Estimates of output gap in India. Source: Monetary Policy Report, April 2015, RBI publications.

The graph below shows the estimates of output gap for India using various statistical techniques. While there are differences between the different techniques, broad generalizations can be derived: the economy was overheated for a prolonged period between 2005 and 2012 and has been in slack ever since.

Irrespective of which method is used, it is important to understand the shortcomings in these approaches. However, the presence of short-comings should not be a reason to undermine the immense importance of the concept of potential output in determining macroeconomic policies.

Anupam Manur is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. He can be found on twitter @anupammanur


[1] Specifically, it is: it = i* + α (πt – π*) + β (yt – y*), where it is the policy rate; πt and π* are the actual and targeted inflation rates, respectively; yt and yt* are actual and potential output, respectively; and i* is the federal funds rate consistent with on-target inflation and output.



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Does a strong currency mean a strong economy?

by Anupam Manur & Varun Ramachandra

Exchange rates have negligible connection with the strength of an economy. Instead, it is determined by trade performance, capital inflows or an arbitrary number chosen by the central bank.

In their book The Dollar Crisis, Paul Simon and Ross Perot famously said that “A weak currency is the sign of a weak economy, and a weak economy leads to a weak nation”. The quote was mentioned in the larger context of American military and economic might, but the feelings espoused in the quote are shared by many. For instance, this article in the Economist describes the feeling of despair amongst the citizens of Hong Kong when the value of their currency (Hong Kong dollar) slipped below that of Mainland China (Yuan). Politicians, central bankers, economists, and policy makers often share the ‘blame’ for a weak currency. But is a ‘weak’ currency truly an indicator of a ‘weak’ economy? Consequently does a ‘strong’ currency necessarily imply a ‘strong’ economy? This post aims to answer these questions.

The strength of a currency, in economic terms, implies the price (or the exchange rate) of one currency in terms of another foreign currency; this is usually measured with respect to the US Dollar, which is considered as the world’s reserve currency. (We will discuss why the US dollar is the world’s reserve currency in our next post). An exchange rate higher than one implies that the currency is stronger than the dollar and an exchange rate lesser than one implies that it is weaker.

The strength of an economy is measured by various means and the most used measure is the value of its Gross Domestic Product (or GDP).  The GDP measures the level of economic activity within a country and is the final monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced. It is a comprehensive measure of economic strength of a country[1]. The table below illustrates the metrics discussed thus far.


Source: GDP, GDP per capita and the ranks from IMF database. Exchange rate is obtained from IMF and XE.com

Note on exchange rate rank:  It is obtained by sorting, in ascending order, the dollar value of domestic currencies. This is a metric derived purely for understanding the ideas discussed in this post and is not a robust measure.

Note on US$, per unit: This number indicates the number of US dollars that can be bought using the domestic currency. Example, exchange rate of 0.0160 for India means that one Indian rupee can buy 0.016 US dollars.

It is clear from the table that China, India and Japan are the second, third and fourth largest economies in the world, but their currencies are relatively weak. In fact, the per-capita GDP and exchange rates are also not comparable variables.


According to economics textbooks, the exchange rate is determined by the demand and supply for a currency relative to another foreign currency. This exchange rate arises out of three major factors:

First, the demand for a currency comes from people acquiring more of a particular currency to pay for foreign goods that they wish to buy (imports). Therefore, the exchange rate is determined by the volume of exports and imports of a country. If a country exports more than it imports, the demand for the exporter country’s currency and its exchange rate rises. Generally, an exporting country would want all or some of its payments made to it in its local currency, which would increase the demand for its currency.

Second, the demand for currencies arises from the financial markets and interest rate regimes. London is the one of the biggest financial centres — measured in terms of the volume of foreign exchange turnover– in the world and hence there is high demand for the Pound Sterling, as is the case with Swiss Francs. Further, countries with higher interest rates normally tend to have stronger currencies, as investors hope to get higher returns on their investments. A high interest regime encourages conversion into these local currencies and helps attain larger returns.

Third, it is in the interest of certain countries to have a weaker currency. A weaker currency will make exports cheaper and imports expensive giving these countries a competitive edge in the world market. Thus, the central banks and governments of different countries deliberately try to have a weaker currency.

The three factors discussed are not comprehensive and do not possess equal weightage; the eventual exchange rate dynamics depends on several other parameters.

Market determination of exchange rate does completely explain the exchange rate determination. There are more exceptions to this than adherents. For example, the Bahamian Dollar is exactly on par with the US dollar, despite playing a negligible role in world trade. This is due to the fact that the central bank of Bahamas has artificially pegged its currency 1:1 with the US dollar. That is even an infinitesimal change in the US dollar is directly reflected in the Bahamian dollar. Currency pegging (either 1:1 or some other predetermined ratio) is done by many countries to maintain stability. For example, Nepal and Bhutan have pegged their currency to the Indian rupee.

In conclusion, it is flippant to estimate the strength of an economy solely through the value of a currency. The strength of an economy is dependent on several variables that exhibit multi-causal relationship amongst themselves. Exchange rate have negligible connection with the strength of an economy. Instead, it is determined by trade performance, capital inflows or an arbitrary number chosen by the central bank.


[1] For simplicity, this post considers the GDP as the measure of strength of economy; to eliminate large country/ population bias we must consider the per-capita GDP (total GDP divided by the population) to arrive at a precise figure. Countries like India rank high in terms of GDP but, thanks to its population, rank much lower in per-capita GDP. Kuwait, on the other hand, ranks high in terms of per-capita GDP.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at Takshashila Institution  and can be found on twitter @anupammanur

Varun Ramachandra is a Policy Analyst at Takshashila Institution and can be found on twitter  @_quale


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