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Would Privatizing Social Security Raise Economic Welfare?

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  • Martin Feldstein

Abstract

A funded social security retirement program would imply a larger capital stock and a higher level of real income than an unfunded program that provides the same level of benefits. The transition from an unfunded program to a funded program that does not reduce the benefits of existing retirees or the present value of the benefit entitlements of existing employees would, however, require substituting explicit government debt for the equally large implicit debt of the unfunded program. This paper shows that such a debt financed transition from an unfunded program to a funded program is not just a change of form without economic effects. Such a debt financed transition would raise economic welfare if three conditions are met: (1) the marginal product of capital exceeds the rate of economic growth; (2) the capital intensity of the economy is below the welfare maximizing level (i.e., the marginal product of capital exceeds the appropriate consumption discount rate); and (3) the rate of economic growth is positive. Illustrative calculations based on U.S. experience since 1960 suggest that the present value of the gain from a debt financed transition to a funded program would substantially exceed the current level of GDP. More explicitly, even with a relatively high real consumption discount rate of 4.4 percent, the present value gain would be about 1.5 dollars per dollar of current net social security wealth or about $17 trillion.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5281.

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Date of creation: Sep 1995
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5281

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  1. Andrew B. Abel & N. Gregory Mankiw & Lawrence H. Summers & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1989. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 2097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Feldstein, Martin S, 1985. "The Optimal Level of Social Security Benefits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 303-20, May.
  3. Feldstein, Martin & Dicks-Mireaux, Louis & Poterba, James, 1983. "The effective tax rate and the pretax rate of return," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 129-158, July.
  4. Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1995. "Privatization of Social Security: How it Works and Why it Matters," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 66, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
  5. Arrow, Kenneth J & Lind, Robert C, 1970. "Uncertainty and the Evaluation of Public Investment Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 364-78, June.
  6. Salvador Valdés & Peter Diamond, . "Social Security Reforms in Chile," Documentos de Trabajo 161, Instituto de Economia. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile..
  7. Peter Diamond, 2004. "Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 1-24, March.
  8. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
  9. Corsetti, Giancarlo & Schmidt-Hebbel, Klaus, 1995. "Pension reform and growth," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1471, The World Bank.
  10. Paul A. Samuelson, 1958. "An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 467.
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