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Overlapping Generations: The First Jubilee

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  • Philippe Weil

Abstract

Paul Samuelson's (1958) overlapping generations model has turned 50. Seldom has so simple a model been so influential. The paper, in spite of its ripe age, still elicits wonder. Starting from the uncontroversial observation that "we live in a world where new generations are always coming along," Samuelson built a model that violates the credo of the first fundamental welfare theorem with which we still inculcate undergraduates 50 years later. According to Samuelson, all is not necessarily well in the best of market economies: with overlapping generations, even absent the usual suspects such as distortions and market failures, a competitive equilibrium need not be Pareto efficient. Worst of all, this failure of the first welfare theorem in an overlapping generations model occurs in a framework that is, in many ways, more plausible and realistic than the world of agents living synchronous and finite existences in which the theorem is usually proved. Like Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile, the mysterious welfare properties of the overlapping generations model are, to a significant extent, responsible for its popularity -- along with the many economic issues it has illuminated in the last half-century. I take it as my brief in this celebratory paper to provide, after a short exposition of the main results of the overlapping generations model under certainty, an explanation of why the welfare properties of the overlapping generations model differ so much from the canonical Arrow-Debreu framework and to review, in a deliberately nonencyclopedic mode, a few striking applications and extensions of Samuelson's deceptively straightforward model.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 22 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 115-34

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:22:y:2008:i:4:p:115-34

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.4.115
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Cited by:
  1. James Feigenbaum, 2008. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Working Papers 368, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2008.
  2. Hans Fehr, 2009. "Computable Stochastic Equilibrium Models and Their Use in Pension- and Ageing Research," De Economist, Springer, vol. 157(4), pages 359-416, December.
  3. CREMER, Helmuth & GAHVARI, Firouz & PESTIEAU, Pierre, 2010. "Fertility, human capital accumulation, and the pension system," CORE Discussion Papers 2010054, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  4. David K. Miles & Jochen Schanz, 2014. "The Relevance or Otherwise of the Central Bank's Balance Sheet," CESifo Working Paper Series 4615, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Volker Grossmann & Thomas Steger & Timo Trimborn, 2011. "The Macroeconomics of TANSTAAFL," CESifo Working Paper Series 3651, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Voosholz, Frauke, 2013. "Inter-generational distribution of resources in a model of economic growth: Taking the land vs. food trade-off into account," CAWM Discussion Papers 70, Center of Applied Economic Research Münster (CAWM), University of Münster.
  7. Torsten Schmidt & Simeon Vosen, 2013. "Demographic change and the labour share of income," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 357-378, January.
  8. Richard Evans & Kerk Phillips, 2014. "OLG Life Cycle Model Transition Paths: Alternate Model Forecast Method," Computational Economics, Society for Computational Economics, vol. 43(1), pages 105-131, January.
  9. Luciano Fanti, 2012. "PAYG pensions and fertility drop: some (pleasant) arithmetic," Discussion Papers 2012/147, Dipartimento di Economia e Management (DEM), University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
  10. Andras Simonovits, 2013. "A family of simple paternalistic transfer models," IEHAS Discussion Papers 1324, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

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