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Automatic Stabilizer: Definition, How It Works, and Examples

Photo: Automatic Stabilizer
Photo: Automatic Stabilizer Photo: Automatic Stabilizer

Automatic Stabilizer: What Is It?

Automatic stabilizers are a fiscal policy that allows businesses to naturally adjust to changes in a country’s economic activity without needing extra, timely permission from the government or decision-makers.

The most well-known automatic stabilizers include transfer programs like welfare and unemployment insurance, as well as gradually graduated corporate and personal income taxes. The reason automatic stabilizers are so named is that they automatically begin without further government intervention, acting to stabilize economic cycles.

Comprehending Automatic Balancers

Although they can also be used to “cool down” a rising economy or fight inflation, automatic stabilizers are generally meant to counteract adverse economic shocks or recessions. By design, these policies tax the economy more heavily during economic development and rising wages. When economic activity declines or earnings fall, they reincorporate additional monies into the economy through government expenditures or tax refunds. This is meant to act as a buffer between the economy and variations in the economic cycle.

A progressive tax system, in which a more significant percentage of income is taxed at higher income levels, is one type of automatic stabilizer. When revenues decline due to a recession, job losses, or unsuccessful investments, the amount also decreases. For instance, under the existing tiered structure, an individual taxpayer’s increased income may be liable for higher tax rates when they achieve higher salaries. Should salaries decline, the person will continue to be taxed according to their earned income under the lower tax brackets.

Similarly, during an expansionary period of the economy, fewer jobless people file claims, which results in a drop in unemployment insurance transfer payments. When the economy is in a recession and unemployment is high, unemployment benefits increase. A person only has to file for benefits when they become jobless in a way that qualifies them for unemployment insurance. There is no need for more prominent government agencies to get involved beyond application processing because various state and federal rules and standards regulate the amount of benefit provided.

Self-adjusting stabilizers and budgetary policy

Automatic stabilizers may inadvertently increase budget deficits during a recession. This part of fiscal policy is a technique of Keynesian economics that employs taxation and expenditure by the government to boost the economy’s aggregate demand during recessions.

Fiscal policy is intended to encourage private enterprises and people to raise, or at least not decrease, their consumption and investment expenditure by taking less money from them in taxes and giving them more in the form of payments and tax refunds. In this instance, fiscal policy aims to keep the economy from experiencing a further downturn.

Examples of Automatic Stabilizers in the Real World

Additionally, automatic stabilizers can be used with other fiscal policy tools that require special parliamentary approval. One-time tax breaks or refunds, government investment spending, or direct government payments to people or companies as subsidies are a few examples.

In the US, some instances were the $831 billion in federal direct subsidies, tax cuts, and infrastructure expenditures under the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, as well as the 2008 one-time tax refunds under the Economic Stimulus Act.

In 2020, the CARES Act—Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security—became the most significant stimulus package in American history. In the form of increased unemployment benefits, direct payments to people and families, grants and loans to small firms, corporate America loans, and billions of dollars to state and local governments, it gave government assistance of nearly $2 trillion.

Automatic stabilizers are designed to be the first line of defense to buck mildly unfavorable economic trends since they react nearly instantly to changes in unemployment and income. To combat more severe or protracted recessions, however, or to provide extra financial assistance to specific companies, geographic areas, or social groups that are politically supported, governments frequently resort to other, more expansive fiscal policy initiatives.


  • The goal of continuous government programs, known as automatic stabilizers, is to maintain income, consumption, and corporate expenditure stability throughout the business cycle by automatically adjusting tax rates and transfer payments.
  • Keynesian economics favors automatic stabilizers as a kind of fiscal policy to fight recessions and downturns in the economy.
  • Governments frequently support automatic stabilizers in the case of severe or protracted economic downturns with one-time or temporary stimulus measures in an attempt to revitalize the economy.

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