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Should public retirement plans be fully funded?

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  • BOHN, HENNING

Abstract

Most state and local retirement plans strive for full funding, at least by actuarial standards. Funding measured at market values fluctuates and often falls short. A common argument for full funding is that pensions are a form of deferred compensation that does not justify a debt. The paper examines public finance, political economy, and financial market issues that bear on optimal funding, broadly and in a series of models. In a model where most taxpayers hold debt and face intermediation costs, returns on pension assets are less than taxpayers’ cost of borrowing. Pension funding is costly and hence zero funding is optimal. The model also implies that unfunded pension promises are properly discounted at a rate strictly greater than the government’s borrowing rate. If pension funds serve as collateral, funding can be warranted despite the cost. This is shown in a model with legal ambiguity and default risk. Except in special cases, the optimal funding ratio is less than full funding.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Journal of Pension Economics and Finance.

Volume (Year): 10 (2011)
Issue (Month): 02 (April)
Pages: 195-219

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jpenef:v:10:y:2011:i:02:p:195-219_00

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References

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  1. repec:fth:calaec:4-98 is not listed on IDEAS
  2. Baxter, Marianne & Jermann, Urban J, 1997. "The International Diversification Puzzle Is Worse Than You Think," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 170-80, March.
  3. Jeffrey R. Brown & David W. Wilcox, 2009. "Discounting State and Local Pension Liabilities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 538-42, May.
  4. Bulow, Jeremy I, 1982. "What Are Corporate Pension Liabilities?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(3), pages 435-52, August.
  5. Alberto Alesina & Roberto Perotti, 1995. "The Political Economy of Budget Deficits," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 42(1), pages 1-31, March.
  6. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2009. "The Liabilities and Risks of State-Sponsored Pension Plans," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 191-210, Fall.
  7. Friedberg, Leora, 2011. "Labor market aspects of state and local retirement plans: a review of evidence and a blueprint for future research," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(02), pages 337-361, April.
  8. Henning Bohn, 1999. "Online Appendix to Should the Social Security Trust Fund hold Equities? An Intergenerational Welfare Analysis," Technical Appendices bohn99, Review of Economic Dynamics.
  9. Robert J. Barro & José F. Ursúa, 2009. "Stock-Market Crashes and Depressions," NBER Working Papers 14760, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  11. Dennis Epple & Katherine Schipper, 1981. "Municipal pension funding: A theory and some evidence," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 37(1), pages 141-178, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2012. "Fiscal Imbalances and Borrowing Costs: Evidence from State Investment Losses," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 182-213, May.
  2. Ponds, E.H.M. & Severinson, C. & Yermo, J., 2012. "Implicit debt in public sector plans: An international comparison," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-5452874, Tilburg University.
  3. Meijdam, A.C. & Ponds, E.H.M., 2013. "On the Optimal Degree Of Funding Of Public Sector Pension Plans," Discussion Paper 2013-011, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  4. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2012. "The Revenue Demands of Public Employee Pension Promises," NBER Working Papers 18489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dashle Kelley, 2014. "The political economy of unfunded public pension liabilities," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 158(1), pages 21-38, January.

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