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Social security in theory and practice (II): Efficiency theories, narrative theories and implications for reform

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166 countries have some kind of public old age pension. What economic forces create and sustain old age Social Security as a public program? Mulligan and Sala-i-Martin (1999b) document several of the internationally and historically common features of social security programs, and explore "political" theories of Social Security. This paper discusses the "efficiency theories", which view creation of the SS program as a full of partial solution to some market failure. Efficiency explanations of social security include the "SS as welfare for the elderly" the "retirement increases productivity to optimally manage human capital externalities", "optimal retirement insurance", the "prodigal father problem", the "misguided Keynesian", the "optimal longevity insurance", the "government economizing transaction costs", and the "return on human capital investment". We also analyze four "narrative" theories of social security: the "chain letter theory", the "lump of labor theory", the "monopoly capitalism theory", and the "Sub-but-Nearly-Optimal policy response to private pensions theory". The political and efficiency explanations are compared with the international and historical facts and used to derive implications for replacing the typical pay-as-you-go system with a forced savings plan. Most of the explanations suggest that forced savings does not increase welfare, and may decrease it.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 385.

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Date of creation: Apr 1999
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Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:385

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Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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Keywords: Social Security; retirement; gerontocracy; retirement incentives; political theories of Social Security;

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