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The Effects of Fiscal Policies When Incomes are Uncertain: A Contradiction to Ricardian Equivalence

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  • Martin Feldstein

Abstract

This paper shows that when earnings are uncertain the substitution of deficit finance for tax finance or the introduction of an unfunded social security program will raise consumption even if all bequests reflect intergenerational altruism. Thus, contrary to the theory developed by Barro and a number of subsequent writers, an operative bequest motive need not imply Ricardian equivalence. Since there is no uncertainty in the present analysis about the date of each individual's death, this conclusion does not depend on imperfections in annuity markets. Nor does it depend on the existence of non-lump-sum taxes and other distortions. Rather it follows from the result derived in the paper that, when an individuals future earnings are uncertain, his future bequest is also uncertain and his consumption therefore rises more in response to an increase in his current disposable income than to an equal present value increase in the disposable income of his potential heirs.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Feldstein, 1986. "The Effects of Fiscal Policies When Incomes are Uncertain: A Contradiction to Ricardian Equivalence," NBER Working Papers 2062, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2062
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    1. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
    2. Miller, Merton H. & Upton, Charles W., 1986. "Macroeconomics," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226526232, Febrero.
    3. Barsky, Robert B & Mankiw, N Gregory & Zeldes, Stephen P, 1986. "Ricardian Consumers with Keynesian Propensities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 676-691, September.
    4. B. Douglas Bernheim & Andrei Shleifer & Lawrence H. Summers, 1984. "Bequests as a Means of Payment," NBER Working Papers 1303, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    6. A. Sandmo, 1970. "The Effect of Uncertainty on Saving Decisions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 37(3), pages 353-360.
    7. Feldstein, Martin, 1982. "Government deficits and aggregate demand," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 1-20.
    8. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Summers, Lawrence H, 1981. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 706-732, August.
    9. Dreze, Jacques H. & Modigliani, Franco, 1972. "Consumption decisions under uncertainty," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 308-335, December.
    10. O'Driscoll, Gerald P, Jr, 1977. "The Ricardian Nonequivalence Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(1), pages 207-210, February.
    11. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "The Cost of Annuities: Implications for Saving Behavior and Bequests," NBER Working Papers 1682, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Zvi Eckstein & Martin S. Eichenbaum & Dan Peled, 1985. "The Distribution of Wealth and Welfare in the Presence of Incomplete Annuity Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(3), pages 789-806.
    13. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Precautionary Saving and Accidental Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 777-791, September.
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