<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Apply Ricardian equivalence to evaluate how government borrowing affects private saving
  • Interpret a graphic representation of Ricardian equivalence

A change in government budgets may impact private saving. Imagine that people watch government budgets and adjust their savings accordingly. For example, whenever the government runs a budget deficit, people might reason: “Well, a higher budget deficit means that I’m just going to owe more taxes in the future to pay off all that government borrowing, so I’ll start saving now.” If the government runs budget surpluses, people might reason: “With these budget surpluses (or lower budget deficits), interest rates are falling, so that saving is less attractive. Moreover, with a budget surplus the country will be able to afford a tax cut sometime in the future. I won’t bother saving as much now.”

The theory that rational private households might shift their saving to offset government saving or borrowing is known as Ricardian equivalence    because the idea has intellectual roots in the writings of the early nineteenth-century economist David Ricardo (1772–1823). If Ricardian equivalence holds completely true, then in the national saving and investment identity, any change in budget deficits or budget surpluses would be completely offset by a corresponding change in private saving. As a result, changes in government borrowing would have no effect at all on either physical capital investment or trade balances.

In practice, the private sector only sometimes and partially adjusts its savings behavior to offset government budget deficits and surpluses. [link] shows the patterns of U.S. government budget deficits and surpluses and the rate of private saving—which includes saving by both households and firms—since 1980. The connection between the two is not at all obvious. In the mid-1980s, for example, government budget deficits were quite large, but there is no corresponding surge of private saving. However, when budget deficits turn to surpluses in the late 1990s, there is a simultaneous decline in private saving. When budget deficits get very large in 2008 and 2009, on the other hand, there is some sign of a rise in saving. A variety of statistical studies based on the U.S. experience suggests that when government borrowing increases by $1, private saving rises by about 30 cents. A World Bank study done in the late 1990s, looking at government budgets and private saving behavior in countries around the world, found a similar result.

U.s. budget deficits and private savings

The graph shows that government borrowing and private investment sometimes rise and fall together. For example, between 1980 and 1984 the deficit as a percentage of GDP fell from –5 to –2% and the gross private savings as a percentage of GDP also fell from 22% to 20%. In 2014, the gross private savings as around 20%, and the budget deficit/surplus was closer to –3%.
The theory of Ricardian equivalence suggests that any increase in government borrowing will be offset by additional private saving, while any decrease in government borrowing will be offset by reduced private saving. Sometimes this theory holds true, and sometimes it does not hold true at all. (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Federal Reserve Economic Data)

So private saving does increase to some extent when governments run large budget deficits, and private saving falls when governments reduce deficits or run large budget surpluses. However, the offsetting effects of private saving compared to government borrowing are much less than one-to-one. In addition, this effect can vary a great deal from country to country, from time to time, and over the short run and the long run.

If the funding for a larger budget deficit comes from international financial investors, then a budget deficit may be accompanied by a trade deficit. In some countries, this pattern of a twin deficits    has set the stage for international financial investors first to send their funds to a country and cause an appreciation of its exchange rate and then to pull their funds out and cause a depreciation of the exchange rate and a financial crisis as well. It depends on whether funding comes from international financial investors.

Key concepts and summary

The theory of Ricardian equivalence holds that changes in government borrowing or saving will be offset by changes in private saving. Thus, higher budget deficits will be offset by greater private saving, while larger budget surpluses will be offset by greater private borrowing. If the theory holds true, then changes in government borrowing or saving would have no effect on private investment in physical capital or on the trade balance. However, empirical evidence suggests that the theory holds true only partially.


Illustrate the concept of Ricardian equivalence using the demand and supply of financial capital graph.

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

What is say's law of marketing?
goods once sold can't be returned
but thats not true at all goods are returned all the time
yah ur right, as a buyer, But in the marketing world, once a good is sold, its sold.
thanks @marvin
what does this saying in economics means "there is no such thing as a free lunch pls
Saibu Reply
autonomous consumption
consumption that is not related to level of income u hve.. eg consumption of basic necessities.
autonomous consumption is the consumption when income is zero or expenditure is not vary from income
what is investment function?
what is the relationship between demand and supply?
According to ijmb marking guide, Differentiate between capital expenditure and revenue expenditure.
elemi Reply
Sir please provide me notes on :-unemployment-the trade-off between inflation and unemployment
Swikrit Reply
what is income
reward for rendering a sercive the real income is after a taxt y-t = (y)
what are the components of trade?
Michelle Reply
whats is gdp
odell Reply
what is gdp per capita
GDP of state divided by its population: GDP per capita. it is one of the most relevant indicator of prosperity among its citizens.
which one is more advantageous or accurate to the other between GDP and GNP?
Both, GDP measures only the incomes generated within the country, irrespective of ownership. whereas,GNP measures the total income earned by nationals.
but which one is a better measure
what are supernormal profits
Caroline Reply
what are zero economic profits
under what circumstances may a firm continue operating even when it is making losses
why should government influence location of a firm
using an illustration,distinguish between breakeven and shutdown point of a firm
supernormal profits are profits beyond the normal profits a firm expects to have after the sale of all goods n services it produced
what are the differences between choice and scarcity
Primus Reply
what is the difference between choice and scarcity
choice means we have many options scarcity means limitation within the same option we chose among choices.
what the d/f production efficeincy and out put efficeincy
what is money?
Primus Reply
money is the material which used to exchange to buy or sell
What is the law of large numbers
Nana Reply
Can anybody provide Solow Growth Model?
Sakar Reply
compare and contrast the classical view and the Keynesian view of economic growth
idoko Reply
what are the objective of macroecnomics in shortrun and long run?
Kalpajyoti Reply
hmm to see how things wages and other economic i dicators adjust in short and long run
What economic values calculate the rate of inflation?
change in cpi
Thank you
how can i get a scholarship easily
I want to know that as well.
even me that's what I wnt to get easily
just contact the emmbasy of the country that u wish to study for more details
hmm NVR mind ogah tnx
what is budget constraints
'You can't compare apples to oranges' an old adage, yet GDP exactly does that, anyone please to show how?
Marvin Reply

Get the best Macroeconomics course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Macroeconomics. OpenStax CNX. Jun 16, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11626/1.10
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Macroeconomics' conversation and receive update notifications?