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Is Prescott Right? Welfare State Policies and the Incentives to Work, Learn and Retire

  • Bas Jacobs

This paper bolsters Prescott’s (2004) claim that high taxes are responsible for lacklustre labor market performance in continental European countries. We develop a lifecycle model with endogenous skill formation, endogenous labor supply, and endogenous retirement. Labor taxation distorts not only labor supply, but also education and retirement decisions. Actuarially unfair pensions further exacerbate labor tax distortions on retirement. Education subsidies can nevertheless cushion the adverse impact of taxation on skill formation. Feedbacks between education, labor supply, and retirement are important. The model is simulated with realistic behavioral elasticities that are consistent with microeconometric evidence. If, besides labor supply, also learning and retirement are endogenous, the uncompensated (compensated) elasticity of the tax base equals 0.46 (0.85), which is more than twice as large as the standard uncompensated (compensated) labor supply elasticity of 0.18 (0.40). Furthermore, life-cycle interactions between education, working and retirement are quantitatively important and the interactions raise all behavioral elasticities substantially. For example, the uncompensated labor supply elasticity increases with one-half due to life-cycle interactions (to 0.26). We demonstrate that low European labor supply can be fully explained by taxation without relying on unrealistically high labor supply elasticities. Reducing labor market distortions, cutting benefit levels, lowering tax rates, and making (early) retirement actuarially fairer, therefore boosts labor supply, delays retirement, and stimulates skill formation. In addition, high education subsidies are needed in large welfare states to off-set explicit and implicit tax burdens on human capital investment.

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File URL: http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/page/portal/DocBase_Content/WP/WP-CESifo_Working_Papers/wp-cesifo-2008/wp-cesifo-2008-04/cesifo1_wp2277.pdf
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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 2277.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2277
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  1. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073, August.
  2. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2002. "The Social Security Early Entitlement Age in a Structural Model of Retirement and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 9183, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
  4. Rafael Lalive & Jan C. van Ours & Josef Zweimüller, 2004. "How Changes in Financial Incentives Affect the Duration of Unemployment," CESifo Working Paper Series 1337, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Angel de la Fuente & Rafael Doménech, 2006. "Human Capital in Growth Regressions: How Much Difference Does Data Quality Make?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 4(1), pages 1-36, 03.
  6. Pissarides, Christopher A., 1998. "The impact of employment tax cuts on unemployment and wages; The role of unemployment benefits and tax structure," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 155-183, January.
  7. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2005. "Work and Leisure in the U. S. and Europe: Why so Different?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2068, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  8. Charlot, Olivier & Decreuse, Bruno, 2006. "Over-education for the rich, under-education for the poor: a search-theoretic microfoundation," MPRA Paper 3624, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Apr 2007.
  9. Sorensen, Peter Birch, 1999. "Optimal tax progressivity in imperfect labour markets," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 435-452, September.
  10. Eric French, 2004. "The Effects of Health, Wealth and Wages on Labor Supply and Retirement Behavior," 2004 Meeting Papers 96, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. Bas Jacobs, 2007. "Real Options and Human Capital Investment," CESifo Working Paper Series 1982, CESifo Group Munich.
  12. John Rust, 1987. "A Dynamic Programming Model of Retirement Behavior," NBER Working Papers 2470, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Bovenberg, A.L. & Jacobs, B., 2001. "Redistribution and Education Subsidies are Siamese Twins," Discussion Paper 2001-82, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  14. Trostel, Philip A, 1993. "The Effect of Taxation on Human Capital," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(2), pages 327-50, April.
  15. David M. Blau, 2008. "Retirement and Consumption in a Life Cycle Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26, pages 35-71.
  16. Edward C. Prescott, 2003. "Why do Americans work so much more than Europeans?," Staff Report 321, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  17. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Social Security and Retirement around the World," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub99-1, November.
  18. repec:dgr:uvatin:20050036 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Jon Gruber & Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income: Evidence and Implications," NBER Working Papers 7512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. repec:dgr:uvatin:2005036 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Stephen Nickell, 1997. "Unemployment and Labor Market Rigidities: Europe versus North America," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 55-74, Summer.
  22. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521873161 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. Bas Jacobs, 2005. "Optimal Income Taxation with Endogenous Human Capital," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 7(2), pages 295-315, 05.
  24. Frederick VAN DER PLOEG, 2004. "DO SOCIAL POLICIES HARM EMPLOYMENT? Second-best effects of taxes and benefits on labor markets," Economics Working Papers ECO2004/11, European University Institute.
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