The fallacy of the fiscal theory of the price level, again

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 14 August 2001

Working Paper no. 141
By Willem H Buiter

This paper argues that the ‘fiscal theory of the price level’ (FTPL) is fallacious. The source of the fallacy is an elementary economic misspecification. The FTPL denies a fundamental property of any model of a market economy, that the budget constraint of any agent, private or public, must be satisfied identically, ie for all admissible values of the variables entering the budget constraint. Instead the FTPL requires the government’s inter-temporal budget constraint to be satisfied only in equilibrium. The FTPL looks for equilibria in which the government can meet its contractual debt obligations exactly, despite having an overdetermined financial-fiscal monetary programme. The economic misspecification has implications for the mathematical properties of the equilibria supported by models that impose the structure of the FTPL. For example, the FTPL implies the anomaly that it can price money in an economy without money. The FTPL has an exact analogue in a ‘household budget constraint theory of the price level’, which is perhaps more readily recognised as a nonsense. 

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