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The Life-Cycle Personal Accounts Proposal for Social Security: An Evaluation

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Abstract

The life-cycle accounts proposal for Social Security reform has been justified by its proponents using a number of different arguments, but these arguments generally involve the assumption of a high likelihood of good returns on the accounts. A simulation is undertaken to estimate the probability distribution of returns in the accounts based on long-term historical experience. U.S. stock market, bond market and money market data 1871-2004 are used for the analysis. Assuming that future returns behave like historical data, it is found that a baseline personal account portfolio after offset will be negative 32% of the time on the retirement date. The median internal rate of return in this case is 3.4 percent, just above the amount necessary for holders of the accounts to break even. However, the U.S. stock market has been unusually successful historically by world standards. It would be better if we adjust the historical data to reduce the assumed average stock market return for the simulation. When this is done so that the return matches the median stock market return of 15 countries 1900-2000 as reported by Dimson et al. [2002], the baseline personal account is found to be negative 71% of the time on the date of retirement and the median internal rate of return is 2.6 percent.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1504.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Policy Modelling (2006), 28: 427-444
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1504

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Keywords: Private accounts; Lifetime portfolio selection; portfolio choice; pensions; old age insurance; social insurance; stock market; returns; historical simulation; thrift savings plan;

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References

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  1. Bodie, Zvi & Merton, Robert C. & Samuelson, William F., 1992. "Labor supply flexibility and portfolio choice in a life cycle model," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 16(3-4), pages 427-449.
  2. Peter Diamond, 2004. "Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 1-24, March.
  3. Kjetil Storesletten & Chris I. Telmer & Amir Yaron, 2004. "Cyclical Dynamics in Idiosyncratic Labor Market Risk," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 695-717, June.
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  5. John Geanakoplos & Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1998. "Social Security Money's Worth," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 98-27, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
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  8. Luis M. Viceira, 1999. "Optimal Portfolio Choice for Long-Horizon Investors with Nontradable Labor Income," NBER Working Papers 7409, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  10. Campbell, John Y. & Viceira, Luis M., 2002. "Strategic Asset Allocation: Portfolio Choice for Long-Term Investors," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198296942, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Scott J. Weisbenner, 2009. "Who Chooses Defined Contribution Plans?," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, pages 131-161 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Binswanger, Johannes, 2007. "Risk management of pensions from the perspective of loss aversion," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 641-667, April.
  3. Anthony Webb, 2009. "Making Your Nest Egg Last a Lifetime," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-20, Center for Retirement Research, revised Sep 2009.
  4. Carlsson, Evert & Erlandzon, Karl, 2006. "The Bright Side of Shiller-Swaps: A Solution to Inter-generational Risk-sharing," Working Papers in Economics 233, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics, revised 24 Oct 2006.
  5. James Poterba & Joshua Rauh & Steven Venti & David Wise, 2006. "Defined Contribution Plans, Defined Benefit Plans, and the Accumulation of Retirement Wealth," NBER Working Papers 12597, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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