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On the Role of Social Security as a Means for Efficient Risk-Bearing in an Economy Where Human Capital Is Not Tradeable

  • Robert C. Merton

An intertemporal general equilibrium model of an economy with overlapping generations and two factors of production, labor and capital, is used to analyze the economic inefficiencies caused by the non- tradeability of human capital -and to derive a constrained pareto-optimal sys tern of taxes and transfers which "c.orrectS1 these inefficiencies. It is shown that, in the absence of such a system, this market failure causes the equilibrium path of the economy to deviate from the optimum for two reasons: First, as is well known, people cannot achieve their optimal lifecycle consumption program because early in life when most of their wealth is in the form of human capital, they cannot consume as much as they would otherwise choose. Second, investors cannot achieve an optimal portfolio allocation of their savings. Not only will some investors be forced to bear more risk than they would choose in the absence of this market failure, but because factor shares are uncertain, the portfolios held by investors will be inefficient. The young are "forced" to invest "too much" of their savings in human capital and the old are "forced" to invest "too little" in human capital. Hence, all investors bear "factor-share" risk which if human capital were tradeable, could be diversified away. It is shown that a optimal system of taxes and transfers not unlike the current Social Security system can eliminate this inefficiency, and therefore, it is suggested that a latent function of the present system may be to improve the efficiency of risk-bearing in the economy.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w0743.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0743.

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Date of creation: Sep 1981
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Publication status: published as Merton, Robert C. "On the Role of Social Security as a Means for Efficient Risk-Bearing in an Economy where Human Capital is Not Tradeable." Financial Aspects of the U.S. Pension System, edited by Zvi Bodie and John B. Shoven. Chicago: UCP, (1984), pp. 325-358.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0743
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  1. Eytan Sheshinski & Yoram Weiss, 1981. "Uncertainty and Optimal Social Security Systems," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(2), pages 189-206.
  2. Diamond, P. A., 1977. "A framework for social security analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 275-298, December.
  3. Rubinstein, Mark, 1976. "The Strong Case for the Generalized Logarithmic Utility Model as the Premier Model of Financial Markets," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 31(2), pages 551-71, May.
  4. Samuelson, Paul A, 1969. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(3), pages 239-46, August.
  5. Jerry R. Green, 1977. "Mitigating Demographic Risk Through Social Insurance," NBER Working Papers 0215, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Feldstein, Martin S, 1974. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(5), pages 905-26, Sept./Oct.
  7. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Spivak, Avia, 1981. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(2), pages 372-91, April.
  8. Hakansson, Nils H, 1970. "Optimal Investment and Consumption Strategies Under Risk for a Class of Utility Functions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 38(5), pages 587-607, September.
  9. Buchanan, James M, 1976. "Barro on the Ricardian Equivalence Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(2), pages 337-42, April.
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