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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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Paper provided by ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles in its series ULB Institutional Repository with number 2013/13430.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Publication status: Published in: Journal of Economic Perspectives (2008) v.22 n° 4,p.115-134
Handle: RePEc:ulb:ulbeco:2013/13430

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Cited by:
  1. Grossmann, Volker & Steger, Thomas M. & Trimborn, Timo, 2011. "The macroeconomics of TANSTAAFL," Working Papers 101, University of Leipzig, Faculty of Economics and Management Science.
  2. James Feigenbaum & Frank N. Caliendo & Emin Gahramanov, 2009. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Economics Series 2009_01, Deakin University, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
  3. 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.
  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. CREMER, Helmuth & GAHVARI, Firouz & PESTIEAU, Pierre, . "Fertility, human capital accumulation, and the pension system," CORE Discussion Papers RP -2366, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  6. Torsten Schmidt & Simeon Vosen, 2010. "Demographic Change and the Labour Share of Income," Ruhr Economic Papers 0165, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
  7. 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.
  8. Richard W. Evans & Kerk L. Phillips, 2012. "OLG Life Cycle Model Transition Paths: Alternate Model Forecast Method," BYU Macroeconomics and Computational Laboratory Working Paper Series 2012-04, Brigham Young University, Department of Economics, BYU Macroeconomics and Computational Laboratory.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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