Abstract It is argued that fiscal policy can play a part in preventing a possible downward spiral or be instrumental in achieving a higher long-term path of growth. Never before has this argument been advanced as frequently as in the current economic crisis. However, the economic literature – an overview of which is given here – does not provide an unambiguous answer, either theoretically or empirically, to the question of the relationship between (the smoothing of) cyclical fluctuations and long-term growth. In this context, two main contrasting explanatory paradigms can be identified: Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction and the learning by doing hypothesis. Even if it were possible to identify the relationship more clearly on this basis, it is important not to lose sight of the problems associated with the real-time assessment of the current economic situation, time lags and political economic incentives even in difficult times.