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

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

Abstract

Why are public-sector workers so heavily compensated with pensions and other non-pecuniary benefits? In this paper, we present a political economy model of shrouded compensation in which politicians compete for taxpayers' and public employees' votes by promising compensation packages, but some voters cannot evaluate every aspect of compensation. If pension packages are "shrouded," meaning that public-sector workers better understand their value than ordinary taxpayers, then compensation will be inefficiently 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. Central control over dispersed municipal pensions has two offsetting effects on pension generosity: more state-level media attention helps taxpayers better understand pension costs, which reduces pension generosity; but a larger share of public sector workers will live within the jurisdiction, which increases pension generosity. We discuss pension arrangements in two decentralized states (California and Pennsylvania) and two centralized states (Massachusetts and Ohio) and find that in these cases, centralization appears to have modestly reduced pension arrangements; but, as the model suggests, this finding is unlikely to be universal.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, 2013. "Shrouded Costs of Government: The Political Economy of State and Local Public Pensions," NBER Working Papers 18976, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18976 Note: PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Federico Boffa & Amedeo Piolatto & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, 2011. "Political centralization and government accountability," Economics Working Papers 1335, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jul 2015.
    2. Solé-Ollé, Albert & Viladecans-Marsal, Elisabet, 2017. "Housing booms and busts and local fiscal policy," ZEW Discussion Papers 17-001, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    3. repec:dgr:kubcen:2012033 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Clark, Robert L. & Hanson, Emma & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2016. "Lessons for public pensions from Utah's move to pension choice," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, pages 285-310.
    5. Crawford, Rowena & Disney, Richard, 2014. "Reform of police pensions in England and Wales," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 62-72.
    6. Ugo Troiano & Giacomo Ponzetto, 2012. "Social Capital, Government Expenditures, and Growth," 2012 Meeting Papers 1048, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    7. Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Edward L. Glaeser, 2017. "The political economy of transportation investment," Economics Working Papers 1556, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Aug 2017.
    8. Emmanuel Farhi & Xavier Gabaix, 2015. "Optimal Taxation with Behavioral Agents," Working Paper 305366, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    9. Salvatore Nunnari & Jan Zapal, 2017. "A Model of Focusing in Political Choice," Working Papers 599, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    10. Andrew Ang & Richard C. Green & Yuhang Xing, 2013. "Advance Refundings of Municipal Bonds," NBER Working Papers 19459, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Lubotsky, Darren & Olson, Craig A., 2015. "Premium copayments and the trade-off between wages and employer-provided health insurance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 63-79.
    12. Clemens, Jeffrey & Cutler, David M., 2014. "Who pays for public employee health costs?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 65-76.
    13. Holger Sieg & Daniele Coen-Pirani & Jeffrey Brinkman, 2015. "The Political Economy of Underfunded Municipal Pension Plans," 2015 Meeting Papers 345, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    14. Touria Jaaidane & Robert J. Gary-Bobo, 2015. "The Evaluation of Pension Reforms in the Public Sector: A Case Study of the Paris Subway Drivers," CESifo Working Paper Series 5431, CESifo Group Munich.
    15. Ben Backes & Ben Backes & Dan Goldhaberb & Cyrus Grout & Cory Koedel & Shawn Ni & Michael Podgursky & P. Brett Xiang & Zeyu Xu, 2015. "Benefit or Burden? On the Intergenerational Inequity of Teacher Pension Plans," Working Papers 1517, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised Apr 2016.
    16. 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.
    17. 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.
    18. repec:tiu:tiucen:2012033 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare

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