Crowding-Out Effect And Why It Matters

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Breaking down the crowing out effect

  • The crowding-out effect describes the way government spending reduces private spending.
  • Public sector spending is accommodated by increasing taxes or the level of borrowing itself. This reduces available capital and decreases consumer confidence.
  • In the long term, the crowding-out effect inhibits economic growth and, in some cases, can exacerbate pre-existing fiscal issues.

Understanding the crowding-out effect

Governments engage in spending to increase demand for goods and services among consumers at a given time and price – otherwise known as aggregate demand. However, such public spending is theorized to decrease aggregate demand instead of the reverse.

How governments finance this increased spending explains the crowding-out effect and how it can reduce consumer confidence in spending. 

Spending is usually financed by:

  1. Increasing tax – taxes imposed on consumers and businesses reduce the amount of discretionary income, thereby reducing demand for goods and services.
  2. Increased borrowing – governments finance borrowing by selling bonds to the private sector through pension funds, investment portfolios, and private individuals. With private sector capital invested in government bonds, there is less to invest back into the private sector itself.

Fundamentally, the crowding-out effect reduces the total amount of savings available for investment. As public spending increases, so too does the demand for available capital. However, the total amount of capital remains constant. This has the effect of increasing interest rates to a level where only governments can afford to service loan repayments. When this occurs, individuals and businesses of all sizes are forced, or “crowded-out” of the market. 

Consider the case of a company looking to borrow $100 million to build a new headquarters. Before government spending, the company was offered an interest rate of 6%. But after the government announced it would offer business loans to stimulate the economy, the company finds the interest rate is now 8%. With a 33% rise in the interest rate, the company cannot afford to service the loan. They are in effect prohibited from entering the market, and the resultant jobs and consumer spending that would have occurred from construction are also lost.

Why does the crowding-out effect matter?

Decreases in private sector spending on goods and services ultimately slows economic growth. When governments borrow money to stimulate consumer spending during a recession, consumers are fearful of being crowded out and subject to higher taxes or interest rates in the future. As a result, they tend to save the stimulus money instead of spending it. This, in turn, renders fiscal stimulus packages ineffective.

The cyclical nature of the crowding-out effect

Government spending has the potential to backfire and reinforce the problem it was designed to address. This can be observed in the following examples:

  • Economy – governments that spend more to address shortfalls in tax revenue may create a negative cycle where they spend more and more capital to try to stimulate a private sector that becomes increasingly crowded-out of the market.
  • Welfare – with more consumers turning to welfare during a recession, the government must spend more money to accommodate them. This spending is derived from borrowed capital that is serviced by governmental raises in private sector interest rates and taxes. This then reduces discretionary income and makes consumers more reliant on welfare.

Connected Business Concepts

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman since 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon where higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. The Pygmalion effect was defined by psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who described it as “the phenomenon whereby one person’s expectation for another person’s behavior comes to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

More resources:

Scroll to Top