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The Optimal Level of Social Security Benefits


  • Martin Feldstein


The optimal level of Social Security benefits depends on balancing the protection that these benefits offer to those who have not provided adequately for their own old age against the welfare costs of distorting economic behavior. The primary such cost is the distortion in private saving. The present paper derives the level of Social Security benefits that is optimal in three basic cases. In the first section of the paper, the optimal level of benefits is derived for an economy in which all individuals do not anticipate retirement at all and therefore do not save. The second and third sections then derive the optimal benefits for economies with two different definitions of attitudes toward retirement and saving.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein, 1982. "The Optimal Level of Social Security Benefits," NBER Working Papers 0970, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0970
    Note: PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Feldstein, Martin & Dicks-Mireaux, Louis & Poterba, James, 1983. "The effective tax rate and the pretax rate of return," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 129-158, July.
    2. Paul A. Samuelson, 1958. "An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 467-467.
    3. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
    4. J. A. Mirrlees & P. Diamond, 1982. "Social Insurance with Variable Retirement and Private Saving," Working papers 296, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    5. Feldstein, Martin S, 1982. "Social Security and Private Saving: Reply," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(3), pages 630-642, June.
    6. Diamond, P. A. & Hausman, J. A., 1984. "Individual retirement and savings behavior," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 81-114.
    7. Diamond, P. A. & Mirrlees, J. A., 1978. "A model of social insurance with variable retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 295-336, December.
    8. Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1979. "Testing the Theory of Social Security and Life Cycle Accumulation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 396-410, June.
    9. Feldstein, Martin S, 1976. "Perceived Wealth in Bonds and Social Security: A Comment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(2), pages 331-336, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Barry J. Nalebuff & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1985. "Pensions and the Retirement Decision," NBER Chapters,in: Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, pages 283-316 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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