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A Positive Theory of Social Security

  • Sala-i-Martin, Xavier X

Social Security programmes around the world link public pensions to retirement: people do not lose their pensions if they make a million dollars a year in the stock market, but they do confront marginal tax rates of up to 100% if they choose to work. After arguing that most existing theories cannot explain this fact, I construct a positive theory which is consistent with it. The main idea is that pensions are a means to induce retirement, that is, to buy the elderly out of the labour force. The reason is that aggregate output is higher if the elderly do not work. This is modelled through positive externalities in the average stock of human capital: because skills depreciate with age, the elderly have lower than average skills and, as a result, they have a negative effect on the productivity of the young. When the difference between the skill level of the young and that of the old is large enough, aggregate ouput in an economy where the elderly do not work is higher. Retirement is desirable in this case, and social security transfers are the means by which such retirement is induced. The theory developed in this paper is also shown to be consistent with a number of other regularities.

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Economic Growth.

Volume (Year): 1 (1996)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 2a77-304

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Handle: RePEc:kap:jecgro:v:1:y:1996:i:2:p:2a77-304
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  1. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & David A. Wise, 1987. "The Incentive Effects of Private Pension Plans," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in Pension Economics, pages 283-340 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jaffe, A.B. & Trajtenberg, M., 1992. "Geographic Localization of Knowledge Spillovers as Evidenced by Patent Citations," Papers 14-92, Tel Aviv.
  3. Bartelsman, E.J. & Caballero, R.J. & Lyons, R.K., 1991. "Short and Long Run Externalities," Papers 91-18, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  4. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
  5. Alesina, Alberto & Rodrik, Dani, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-90, May.
  6. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1.
  7. Mulligan, Casey B & Sala-i-Martin, Xavier, 1993. "Transitional Dynamics in Two-Sector Models of Endogenous Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 739-73, August.
  8. Michael J. Boskin & John B. Shoven, 1987. "Concepts and Measures of Earnings Replacement During Retirement," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in Pension Economics, pages 113-146 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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