Japan’s consumption tax: a test of modern macro? by Simon Wren-Lewis
The common theme here is the importance that modern macro places on expectations of a fairly rational kind. Yet even if you are happy to go along with this, there is an important proviso that does not get emphasised enough. How did consumers know that the budget deficit would be reduced by raising taxes rather than cutting spending? If they had expected the deficit to be reduced by lower government spending, they will not have expected a fall in their post-tax real income. For these consumers the Prime Minister’s announcement will come as a surprise, and they will reduce their consumption as a result.Edit: Abe Increases Both Stimulus Spending and Taxes!? What’s Up with That? by Jared Bernstein
This argument is completely consistent with consumers being rational and forward looking, as I emphasise here. All the behavioural assumptions required for Ricardian Equivalence can still be there. What Ricardian Equivalence implicitly does is hold the path of future government spending fixed, but that is an artificial assumption which cannot be true in practice, if only because of political uncertainty. (The argument applies more generally to the small amount of modelling that has attempted to demonstrate ‘expansionary austerity’.)
So we can summarise as follows. If consumption remains on average unperturbed by the sales tax increase (perhaps showing a positive spike before April 2014 which is only partially offset by falls thereafter), then modern macro can pat itself on the back. On the other hand if consumption does take a significant hit, modern macro has an escape clause. Let us hope it does not need it.