IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Is Everything Neutral?

Listed author(s):
  • B. Douglas Bernheim
  • Kyle Bagwell

In his well-known analysis of the national debt, Robert Barro introduced the notion of a "dynastic family." This notion has since become a standard research tool, particularly in the areas of public finance and macroeconomics. In this paper, we critique the assumptions upon which the dynastic mode1 is predicated, and argue that this framework is not a suitable abstraction in contexts where the objective is to analyze the effects of public policies. We reach this conclusion by formally considering a world in which each generation consists of a large number of distinct individuals, as opposed to one representative individual. We point out that family linkages form complex networks, in which each individual may belong to many dynastic groupings. The resulting proliferation of linkages between families gives rise to a host of neutrality results, including the irrelevance of all public redistributions, distortionary taxes, and prices. Since these results are not at all descriptive of the real world, we conclude that, in some fundamental sense, the world is not even approximately dynastic. These observations call into question all policy related results based on the dynastic framework, including the Ricardian equivalence hypo thesis.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2086.

in new window

Date of creation: Dec 1986
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 308-338, (April 1988). Reprinted in K.D. Hoover (ed.) the New Classical Macroeconomics, Edward
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2086
Note: PE
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2086. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.