Consumption and the Aggregate Expenditures Model
13.1 Determining the Level of Consumption
Case in Point: Consumption and the Tax Rebate of 2001
The first round of the Bush tax cuts was passed in 2001. Democrats in Congress insisted on a rebate aimed at stimulating consumption. In the summer of 2001, rebates of $300 per single taxpayer and of $600 for married couples were distributed. The Department of Treasury reported that 92 million people received the rebates. While the rebates were intended to stimulate consumption, the extent to which the tax rebates stimulated consumption, especially during the recession, is an empirical question.
It is difficult to analyze the impact of a tax rebate that is a single event experienced by all households at the same time. If spending does change at that moment, is it because of the tax rebate or because of some other event that occurred at that time?
Fortunately for researchers Sumit Agarwal, Chunlin Liu, and Nicholas Souleles, using data from credit card accounts, the 2001 tax rebate checks were distributed over 10 successive weeks from July to September of 2001. The timing of receipt was random, since it was based on the next-to-last digit of one's Social Security number, and taxpayers were informed well in advance that the checks were coming. The researchers found that consumers initially saved much of their rebates, by paying down their credit card debts, but over a nine-month period, spending increased to about 40% of the rebate. They also found that consumers who were most liquidity constrained (for example, close to their credit card debt limits) spent more than consumers who were less constrained.
The researchers thus conclude that their findings do not support the permanent income hypothesis, since consumers responded to spending based on when they received their checks and because the results indicate that consumers do respond to what they call "lumpy" changes in income, such as those generated by a tax rebate. In other words, current income does seem to matter.
Two other studies of the 2001 tax rebate reached somewhat different conclusions. Using survey data, researchers Matthew D. Shapiro and Joel Slemrod estimated an MPC of about one-third. They note that this low increased spending is particularly surprising, since the rebate was part of a general tax cut that was expected to last a long time. At the other end, David S. Johnson, Jonathan A. Parker, and Nicholas S. Souleles, using yet another data set, found that looking over a six-month period, the MPC was about two-thirds. So, while there is disagreement on the size of the MPC, all conclude that the impact was non-negligible.