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Rising indebtedness and temptation: A welfare analysis

  • Makoto Nakajima

Is the observed large increase in consumer indebtedness since 1970 beneficial for U.S. consumers? This paper quantitatively investigates the macroeconomic and welfare implications of relaxing borrowing constraints using a model with preferences featuring temptation and self-control. The model can capture two contrasting views: the positive view, which links increased indebtedness to financial innovation and thus better consumption smoothing, and the negative view, which is associated with consumers' over-borrowing. The author finds that the latter is sizable: the calibrated model implies a social welfare loss equivalent to a 0.4 percent decrease in per-period consumption from the relaxed borrowing constraint consistent with the observed increase in indebtedness. The welfare implication is strikingly different from the standard model without temptation, which implies a welfare gain of 0.7 percent, even though the two models are observationally similar. Naturally, the optimal level of the borrowing limit is significantly tighter according to the temptation model, as a tighter borrowing limit helps consumers by preventing over-borrowing.

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Article provided by Econometric Society in its journal Quantitative Economics.

Volume (Year): 3 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 (07)
Pages: 257-288

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Handle: RePEc:ecm:quante:v:3:y:2012:i:2:p:257-288
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  1. Juan Carlos Conesa & Sagiri Kitao & Dirk Krueger, 2007. "Taxing Capital? Not a Bad Idea After All!," NBER Working Papers 12880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Josep Pijoan-Mas, 2006. "Precautionary Savings or Working Longer Hours?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 9(2), pages 326-352, April.
  3. Per Krusell & Burhanettin Kuruşçu & Anthony A. Smith Jr., 2010. "Temptation and Taxation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(6), pages 2063-2084, November.
  4. Malin, Benjamin A., 2008. "Hyperbolic discounting and uniform savings floors," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1986-2002, October.
  5. Jeremy Tobacman & David Laibson, 2007. "Estimating Discount Functions with Consumption Choices over the Lifecycle," Economics Series Working Papers 341, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  6. Francesc Obiols-Homs, 2011. "On borrowing limits and welfare," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 14(2), pages 279-294, April.
  7. David Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 2000. "A Debt Puzzle," Documentos de Trabajo 80, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
  8. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michèle Tertilt, 2007. "Accounting for the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies," NBER Working Papers 13363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Huggett, Mark, 1996. "Wealth distribution in life-cycle economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 469-494, December.
  10. Makoto Nakajima, 2009. "Equilibrium Default and Temptation," 2009 Meeting Papers 863, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. David I. Laibson, 1996. "Hyperbolic Discount Functions, Undersaving, and Savings Policy," NBER Working Papers 5635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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