Economics » Impacts of Government Borrowing » Fiscal Policy, Investment, and Economic Growth

The Interest Rate Connection

The Interest Rate Connection

Assume that government borrowing of substantial amounts will have an effect on the quantity of private investment. How will this affect interest rates in financial markets? In this figure, the original equilibrium (E0) where the demand curve (D0) for financial capital intersects with the supply curve (S0) occurs at an interest rate of 5% and an equilibrium quantity equal to 20% of GDP. However, as the government budget deficit increases, the demand curve for financial capital shifts from D0 to D1. The new equilibrium (E1) occurs at an interest rate of 6% and an equilibrium quantity of 21% of GDP.

Budget Deficits and Interest Rates

The graph plots the downward-sloping demand and upward-sloping supply of financial capital. The y-axis is the interest rate (also known as the “price” of financial capital) and the x-axis shows the quantity of financial capital as a percentage of GDP. An increase in government borrowing increases the quantity of financial capital demanded at all interest rates. This is a rightward shift in the demand for financial capital. The graph shows that the equilibrium interest rate will rise.

In the financial market, an increase in government borrowing can shift the demand curve for financial capital to the right from D0 to D1. As the equilibrium interest rate shifts from E0 to E1, the interest rate rises from 5% to 6% in this example. The higher interest rate is one economic mechanism by which government borrowing can crowd out private investment.

A survey of economic studies on the connection between government borrowing and interest rates in the U.S. economy suggests that an increase of 1% in the budget deficit will lead to a rise in interest rates of between 0.5 and 1.0%, other factors held equal. In turn, a higher interest rate tends to discourage firms from making physical capital investments. One reason government budget deficits crowd out private investment, therefore, is the increase in interest rates. There are, however, economic studies that show a limited connection between the two (at least in the United States), but as the budget deficit grows, the dangers of rising interest rates become more real.

At this point, you may wonder about the Federal Reserve. After all, can the Federal Reserve not use expansionary monetary policy to reduce interest rates, or in this case, to prevent interest rates from rising? This useful question emphasizes the importance of considering how fiscal and monetary policies work in relation to each other. Imagine a central bank faced with a government that is running large budget deficits, causing a rise in interest rates and crowding out private investment. If the budget deficits are increasing aggregate demand when the economy is already producing near potential GDP, threatening an inflationary increase in price levels, the central bank may react with a contractionary monetary policy. In this situation, the higher interest rates from the government borrowing would be made even higher by contractionary monetary policy, and the government borrowing might crowd out a great deal of private investment.

On the other hand, if the budget deficits are increasing aggregate demand when the economy is producing substantially less than potential GDP, an inflationary increase in the price level is not much of a danger and the central bank might react with expansionary monetary policy. In this situation, higher interest rates from government borrowing would be largely offset by lower interest rates from expansionary monetary policy, and there would be little crowding out of private investment.

However, even a central bank cannot erase the overall message of the national savings and investment identity. If government borrowing rises, then private investment must fall, or private saving must rise, or the trade deficit must fall. By reacting with contractionary or expansionary monetary policy, the central bank can only help to determine which of these outcomes is likely.

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