I created this site because there was no single link to the web pages of the existing fiscal councils, or easily accessible account of what fiscal councils in general were trying to achieve. I have tried to be objective in its contents: for my own papers and other contributions on this subject, go here. Please let me know of any errors that you find, or comments that you have. Last updated June 2012.
What are Fiscal Councils?
The term Fiscal Council is generally used to describe an institution, funded by but independent of government, which provides public advice on fiscal issues. Here we will restrict the term to include only institutions that provide macroeconomic advice on the likely course of national budget deficits, but these same institutions may or may not also provide detailed microeconomic costing of the budgetary impact of particular projects or proposals (as is the case of the CBO in the US, for example). Some prefer the term Independent Fiscal Institutions to Fiscal Council, because many are not councils of the ‘wise men’ type, but have a more traditional hierarchy with a single head. They are also sometimes referred to ask ‘fiscal watchdogs’, but those set up to serve parliament (CBO, PBO) can be a little uncomfortable with this description.
These institutions are often described as ‘independent’. The degree and type of independence from, in particular, the Finance Ministry of a country varies across countries. They have begun to interest macroeconomists as a possible antidote to deficit bias: the tendency for government debt as a proportion of GDP to rise over time that has been observed in the OECD area as a whole. A few countries have had institutions for many decades that can be classed as Fiscal Councils, and while in some cases those countries do appear to suffer less from deficit bias (e.g. the Netherlands), in other cases problems remain (e.g. the US).
As yet there is no international network of Fiscal Councils, although the first conference bringing representatives from most of these councils together was held in Budapest in March 2010. The OECD has also been active in analysing and bringing together these institutions (see this code of practice for example). Two comprehensive surveys of Fiscal Councils are provided by Debrun et al (2009) and Calmfors and Wren-Lewis (2011). (A short summary of the latter reference is here.) For a short survey focusing on Europe, see Debrun and Takahashi (2011). See the links above for very short descriptions of fiscal councils around the world, and links where available to their webpages, to a list of some of the academic work which has proposed and analysed such bodies, and a brief frequently asked questions section for those who do not have the time to read any of this literature.
For long runs of data on debt to GDP, see the excellent IMF data mapper.