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Transfers to Families with Children as a Principal-Agent Problem

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  • Alessandro Cigno
  • Annalisa Luporini
  • Anna Pettini

Abstract

The relationship between government and parents is modelled as a principal-agent problem, with the former in the role of principal and the latter in the role of agents. We make three major points. The first is that, if the well-being of the child depends not only on luck, but also on parental actions that the government cannot readily observe, the latter can influence parental behaviour indirectly, by conditioning transfers on performance. The second point is that, if there are market inputs into the making of a happy or successful child, which the government can observe, but cannot ascribe to any particular parent or child because they are bought anonymously, an income transfer policy can be usefully complemented by an indirect tax policy that systematically distorts prices in favour of these inputs. The third is that, if parents care about their children, insurance and incentive considerations must be tempered by the need to compensate parents who have the misfortune of getting a child with low ability or, more generally, less well equipped to make the most of life. Ways of making these findings operative are discussed in some detail.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 351.

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Date of creation: 2000
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_351

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  1. Alessandro Cigno, 2001. "Comparative Advantage, Observability, and the Optimal Tax Treatment of Families with Children," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 455-470, August.
  2. Jullien, Bruno, 2000. "Participation Constraints in Adverse Selection Models," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 93(1), pages 1-47, July.
  3. Jewitt, Ian, 1988. "Justifying the First-Order Approach to Principal-Agent Problems," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(5), pages 1177-90, September.
  4. Lewis, Tracy R & Sappington, David E M, 1989. "Inflexible Rules in Incentive Problems," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 69-84, March.
  5. Lewis, Tracy R. & Sappington, David E. M., 1989. "Countervailing incentives in agency problems," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 294-313, December.
  6. Cigno, Alessandro, 1993. "Intergenerational transfers without altruism : Family, market and state," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 505-518, November.
  7. Cigno, Alessandro & Pettini, Anna, 2002. "Taxing family size and subsidizing child-specific commodities?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 75-90, April.
  8. Cigno, Alessandro & Rosati, Furio C., 1996. "Jointly determined saving and fertility behaviour: Theory, and estimates for Germany, Italy, UK and USA," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(8), pages 1561-1589, November.
  9. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1987. "Aggregation and Linearity in the Provision of Intertemporal Incentives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(2), pages 303-28, March.
  10. Cigno, Alessandro, 1983. "Corrigendum [On Optimal Family Allowances]," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 35(2), pages 329, July.
  11. Paul R. Milgrom, 1981. "Good News and Bad News: Representation Theorems and Applications," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(2), pages 380-391, Autumn.
  12. Cigno, Alessandro, 1983. "On Optimal Family Allowances," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 35(1), pages 13-22, March.
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