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(b) "Fiscal policy works best to achieve price stability in a small and open economy like Singapore." To what extent do you agree with this assertion? [17]


(b) "Fiscal policy works best to achieve price stability in a small and open economy like Singapore." To what extent do you agree with this assertion?


Inflation brings about some adverse effects to the economy and hence it is important for governments to implement policies to curb inflation. The policies used would differ according to the type of inflation as well as the nature of the economy. This paper discusses if fiscal policy works best to achieve price stability in a small and open economy, and uses Singapore as a case study in particular. First, it should be noted that Singapore is a small and open economy with no natural resources, relying heavily on trade, international capital flows, and foreign direct investments to drive growth. This paper argues that fiscal policy can be used, but its impacts are massively limited given Singapore’s context.

What is fiscal policy?

Fiscal policy refers to the manipulation of government expenditure and taxation to achieve macroeconomic goals. A contractionary fiscal policy could be used to curb inflation. Government expenditure could be reduced or taxation could be increased. With a lower government expenditure, this would translate to a lower aggregate demand (AD) which consists of AD = Consumption + Government expenditure + Investment + Net Exports, or AD = C + I + G + (X-M).

Through the multiplier process, a fall in G would lead to a multiple fall in AD. With a fall in AD, firms would accumulate inventories and this would be a signal to reduce production and output. Firms will reduce their number of workers hence resulting in a fall in output and a rise in unemployment and a fall in national income. With a fall in household incomes, there is a fall in spending and hence through the multiplier process, this would result in a contractionary effect on the economy. Hence, AD would shift to the left as shown, resulting in a fall in the general price level.

With higher taxes such as income taxes, this would reduce the disposable incomes of consumers and hence this would also reduce consumption expenditure, shifting the AD curve to the left, and, hence, also resulting in a fall in the general price level.

Limitations of Fiscal Policy in Singapore’s Context

However, the effectiveness of fiscal policy would depend on the size of the multiplier. In the case of Singapore, the size of the multiplier is small due to the high marginal propensities to save and import. This is firstly due to compulsory savings such as the Central Provident Fund (CPF), and, secondly, a high marginal propensity to import, among other factors. Because Singapore is a small and open economy that relies heavily on foreign trade, there would be high leakages from the economy. Also, it would also be difficult to reduce government expenditure for long-term, major projects. Increasing personal income tax could also result in a disincentive to work and a higher corporate tax could drive businesses away from Singapore.

Other Possible Solutions

On the other hand, the Singapore government can also use contractionary monetary policies (in Singapore’s case, an exchange rate policy), or supply-side policies instead to tackle inflation, rather than just fiscal policy.

Monetary Policy, in Singapore’s Context

Monetary policy refers to the use of interest rates to achieve macroeconomic objectives. In Singapore’s case, her monetary policy is tied to exchange rates, and Singapore uses a form of exchange rate policy because Singapore is dependent on external demand. Therefore, it is more effective to control exports and imports in Singapore’s context. Hence, the exchange rate is used as a tool of monetary policy in Singapore instead.

In Singapore, a managed float system is adopted where the Singapore dollar is allowed to fluctuate within a band against a basket of currencies of her trade partners. The central bank will then intervene in the foreign exchange market to move the exchange rate to a desired level by buying up or selling the Singapore dollar using her foreign reserves, when the currency level approaches the bands. For instance, to curb inflation, the Singapore central bank (the MAS) could buy up the Singapore dollar, resulting in an appreciation of the Singapore dollar. This appreciation of the Singapore dollar would lead to a fall in the price of imports in terms of Singapore dollars. This would lead to a lower cost of living as the price of imported products would be lower. With a lack of natural resources, Singapore depends heavily on imports as inputs to manufacture our exports. Therefore, the fall in the price of imports would lead to a fall in the cost of production.

The lower price of imports would also mean that consumers switch away from local goods and purchase more imports instead, assuming they are substitutes. With an appreciation of the Singapore dollar, this would mean that Singapore’s exports are more expensive in foreign currency terms and hence less price-competitive. Assuming demand for exports to be price-elastic, this would lead to a more than proportionate fall in quantity demanded of exports from Singapore. If the Marshall-Lerner condition holds, this would lead to a fall in net exports and hence a fall in AD. The AD curve would shift to the left, resulting in a fall in the general price level, ceteris paribus.

Limitations of Singapore’s Exchange Rate Policy

However, there are limitations to the effectiveness of Singapore’s exchange rate policy. Intervention in the foreign exchange market to generate an appreciation of the currency would require Singapore to maintain significant reserves. A fall in export earnings through an appreciation of the dollar would also lead to a worsening of the current account.

On the other hand, besides fiscal and monetary policies, the Singapore government could also use supply-side policies to tackle both demand-pull and cost-push inflation. With supply-side policies, the aggregate supply (AS) could be increased through labour retraining and education. By increasing the productivity of workers, in the long run, the cost of production would fall, resulting in a rightward shift of the LRAS curve, leading to a fall in the general price level, ceteris paribus. Cost-push inflation can also be curbed using wage and income policies. For instance, a flexible wage structure would enable wages to be adjusted downwards. In Singapore, the National Wages Council (NWC) recommends the level of wage increases. This could control labour costs and ensure that wage increases do not outstrip productivity increases.

However, supply-side policies would not work effectively if AD continues to increase. Therefore, there is a need to use both contractionary fiscal or monetary policy to reduce AD to reduce the upward pressure on prices. In the long run, supply-side policies are important to curb inflation.

Conclusions

In concluding, it should be mentioned there could also be considerable time lags involved in the implementation of policies. It takes time for policymakers to gather data. There could also be implementation lags due to the time taken to implement suitable policies. Once policies are implemented, there could also be impact lags as it takes time for policies to take effect. Also, due to the characteristics of the Singapore economy, it is arguably better to adopt contractionary monetary policy using exchange rates to curb inflation, as Singapore’s monetary policy is in the form of exchange rate policy. This poses a tricky problem, in that, with a small multiplier in Singapore’s context, the effectiveness of fiscal policy is limited, yet the benefits of supply-side policies might only be reaped in the long run. However, it should also be noted that curbing inflation could lead to a trade-off with another macroeconomic objective of unemployment. By curbing inflation, a fall in national output will occur and that might lead to an increase in unemployment. In the final analysis, fiscal policy is only one of many solutions and its impact is massively limited in Singapore, and as such as plethora of policies should be used instead of one single policy.


JC Economics Essays: Tutor's Comments - This paper was written by an Economics tutor friend of mine, who was my former classmate at the NIE (National Institute of Education), doing PGDE (Postgraduate Diploma in Education, JC, Economics specialisation). For part (a) of this question, see the suggested "model" Economics answer why low inflation is an important macroeconomic aim of the Singapore government.  My usual tutor's comments and questions apply here to this essay: what do you like about this paper, and what have you learnt here? Also, what have you studied that is different or similar to what is written in this Economics paper? Using your knowledge of macroeconomics, what diagram must you use here to explain the words? Remember, although this was written under simulated examination conditions by an Economics tutor, you can always think of other ways to improve it, refine it, and make it better suit the context. Also remember that you should know how and when to apply your Economics concepts and theories, rather than just merely memorising and regurgitating. Be sure to think hard, clearly, and properly when writing your Economics essays, especially during examination conditions. Thanks for reading, and cheers!

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