May 22 2007

2007 AP FRQ #2 – Tax credits and the loanable funds market

Molly Saso, AP Econ teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, asked in an email to the AP Econ email list about Free Response Question #2 from the International exam (form B). The question reads:

2. (a) Assume that businesses are granted a tax credit on spending for machinery. Using a correctly labeled graph of the loanable funds market, show the effect of the business sector’s response on the real interest rate.

Here’s Molly’s email:

“The loanable funds market, in spite of its apparent simplicity, continues to throw up some ambiguities–or perhaps it’s just me who is perplexed.

What would be the impact on the market of a tax credit for spending on machinery? (Q2 on Form B, 2007–all the FRQs are already on AP Central.)

While the intent is indeed to increase planned investment, would firms increase or decrease their demand for loanable funds? To the extent that the tax credit means that there is a greater amount of post-tax profits available for investment, then the demand for loanable funds could decrease; but wouldn’t many firms need to supplement their post-tax profits with a greater demand for loanable funds?

Perhaps, if the impact on demand is indeterminate, the shift would be in supply, since firms would have a greater store of “savings” (retained profits). However, since a shift in supply was the answer to the second part of Q2, I somehow doubt that the examininer would be expecting a supply shift in part (a) as well.

The trouble is that the question asked for no explanation–only a graph to “show the effect”. I wonder what kind of shift was expected?

In perplexity,
Molly”

Molly’s question is a good one, and although I hadn’t spent much time reflecting on this question, her email got me thinking more about this interesting and challenging question. Here’s what I came up with and replied to Molly with. I don’t know if it’s correct or not, but I’d be interested to hear what others thought about this question:

Hi Molly,I’m in Shanghai, so my students also took form B (the international questions). I too found this to be a bit confusing. But as I teach my students, “don’t make the questions more complicated than they have to be, look for the most obvious answer.” Unfortunately, this one had no immediately obvious answer, as you explain below. I think what made it difficult was the term “tax credit on spending for machinery”. I don’t know about you, but this specific term never came up in my class!

Here’s how the question begins: “Assume that businesses are granted a tax credit on spending for machinery”. I interpret this tax credit as an amount deducted from federal income tax, calculated as a fixed percentage of expenditures on, in this case, machinery. In other words, the tax credit is not granted unless the firm undertake investments in new machinery. Your suggestion that the tax credit results in a “greater amount of post-tax profits available for investment” may be mistaking the credit indicated with a reduction in corporate profit taxes. I think if this were a corporate profit tax question then perhaps demand for loanable funds would go down since new investment could come from the now higher profit margins firms receive; in fact, the tax credit is not granted until new investment is undertaken by the firms in the first place.

I would explain this to my students by saying that essentially, the expected rate of return on investments goes up (since fewer taxes will be paid once new machinery is bought), shifting the Investment Demand curve out, thus the Demand for loanable funds, increasing the real interest rate.

That said, I cannot be certain that this is what the AP was looking for, so don’t hold me to it! Writing this email allowed me to really clear this one up, though, so thanks for the inquiry!

Jason

Anyone else have a better answer or something to add?

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

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