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Shrouded Costs of Government: Political Economy of State and Local Public Pensions Data

Author

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  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Giacomo A.M. Ponzetto

Abstract

Why do public-sector workers receive so much of their compensation in the form of pensions and other benefits? This paper presents a political economy model in which politicians compete for taxpayers' 'and government employees' votes by promising compensation packages, but some voters cannot evaluate every aspect of promised compensation. If pension packages are "shrouded," so that public-sector workers better understand their value than ordinary taxpayers, then compensation will be highly back-loaded. In equilibrium, the welfare of public-sector workers could be improved, holding total public-sector costs constant, if they received higher wages and lower pensions. Centralizing pension determination has two off-setting effects on generosity: more state-level media attention helps taxpayers better understand pension costs, and that reduces pension generosity; but a larger share of public-sector workers will vote within the jurisdiction, which increases pension generosity. A short discussion of pensions in two decentralized states (California and Pennsylvania) and two centralized states (Massachusetts and Ohio) suggests that centralization appears to have modestly reduced pensions, but, as the model suggests, this is unlikely to be universal.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A.M. Ponzetto, 2013. "Shrouded Costs of Government: Political Economy of State and Local Public Pensions Data," Working Papers 660, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bge:wpaper:660
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    File URL: http://www.barcelonagse.eu/sites/default/files/working_paper_pdfs/660.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2005. "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1283-1330.
    2. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2006. "Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 505-540.
    3. Matthew Gentzkow, 2006. "Television and Voter Turnout," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(3), pages 931-972.
    4. Leeds, Michael A., 1985. "Property values and pension underfunding in the local public sector," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 34-46, July.
    5. Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, 2008. "Heterogeneous information and trade policy," Economics Working Papers 1296, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Dec 2011.
    6. James Poterba & Steven Venti & David A. Wise, 2007. "The Changing Landscape of Pensions in the United States," NBER Working Papers 13381, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Clemens, Jeffrey & Cutler, David M., 2014. "Who pays for public employee health costs?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 65-76.
    2. Andrew Chamberlain, 2015. "Are State Workers Overpaid? Survey Evidence from Liquor Privatization in Washington State," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 36(4), pages 347-388, December.
    3. Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Ugo Troiano, 2012. "Social capital, government expenditures, and growth," Economics Working Papers 1307, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Apr 2018.
    4. Cory Koedel & P. Brett Xiang, 2017. "Pension Enhancements and the Retention of Public Employees," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 70(2), pages 519-551, March.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    public pensions; state and local government; imperfect information; elections; public sector unions;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • H77 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Intergovernmental Relations; Federalism

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