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Trading with the Unborn: A New Perspective on Capital Income Taxation

  • Kent A. Smetters

    (The Wharton School and NBER)

Security markets between generations are incomplete in the laissez-faire economy since risk sharing agreements cannot be made with the unborn. But suppose that generations could trade if, for example, a representative of the unborn negotiated on their behalf today. What would the trades look like? Can government fiscal policy by used to replicate these trades? Would completing this missing market be pareto improving when the introduction of the new security changes the prices of existing assets? This paper characterizes analytically the hypothetical trades between generations. It shows how the government can replicate these trades by taxing the realized equity premium on investments by either a positive amount or a negative amount. When technology shocks are mostly driven by changes in depreciation, a positive tax on the equity premium replicates the hypothetical trades; this tax is also driven by changes in productivity, the choice between a positive and negative tax rate is unclear. However, with log utility, Cobb-Douglas production, and a depreciation rate less than 100 percent, the equity premium is to be taxed at a negative rate; this tax is also pareto improving. Finally, simulation analysis is used to consider more complicated cases, including when depreciation and productivity are both uncertain. Under the baseline calibration for the U.S., a positive tax on the equity premium is pareto improving.

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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp066.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: May 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp066
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  1. Roger H. Gordon, 1985. "Taxation of Corporate Capital Income: Tax Revenues Versus Tax Distortions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(1), pages 1-27.
  2. Ball, Laurence & Mankiw, N. Gregory, 2007. "Intergenerational Risk Sharing in the Spirit of Arrow, Debreu, and Rawls, with Applications to Social Security Design," Scholarly Articles 3443106, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. David F. Bradford, 1995. "Consumption Taxes: Some Fundamental Transition Issues," NBER Working Papers 5290, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Poterba, James M., 1998. "The rate of return to corporate capital and factor shares: new estimates using revised national income accounts and capital stock data," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 211-246, June.
  5. Henning Bohn, 1999. "Should the Social Security Trust Fund Hold Equities," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(3), pages 666-697, July.
  6. J. E. Stiglitz, 1969. "The Effects of Income, Wealth, and Capital Gains Taxation on Risk-Taking," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(2), pages 263-283.
  7. Agnar Sandmo, 1977. "Portfolio Theory, Asset Demand and Taxation: Comparative Statics with Many Assets," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 44(2), pages 369-379.
  8. Evsey D. Domar & Richard A. Musgrave, 1944. "Proportional Income Taxation and Risk-Taking," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(3), pages 388-422.
  9. Wang Yong, 1993. "Stationary Equilibria in an Overlapping Generations Economy with Stochastic Production," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 423-435, December.
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