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Optimal Automatic Stabilizers

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  • Alisdair McKay
  • Ricardo Reis

Abstract

Should the generosity of unemployment benefits and the progressivity of income taxes depend on the presence of business cycles? This paper proposes a tractable model where there is a role for social insurance against uninsurable shocks to income and unemployment, as well as inefficient business cycles driven by aggregate shocks through matching frictions and nominal rigidities. We derive an augmented Baily-Chetty formula showing that the optimal generosity and progressivity depend on a macroeconomic stabilization term. Using a series of analytical examples, we show that this term typically pushes for an increase in generosity and progressivity as long as slack is more responsive to social programs in recessions. A calibration to the U.S. economy shows that taking concerns for macroeconomic stabilization into account raises the optimal unemployment benefits replacement rate by 13 percentage points but has a negligible impact on the optimal progressivity of the income tax. More generally, the role of social insurance programs as automatic stabilizers affects their optimal design.

Suggested Citation

  • Alisdair McKay & Ricardo Reis, 2016. "Optimal Automatic Stabilizers," NBER Working Papers 22359, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22359
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    3. Euiyoung Jung, 2021. "Rigid Wages, Endogenous Job Destruction, and Destabilizing Spirals," Working Papers halshs-03213006, HAL.
    4. François Le Grand & Xavier Ragot, 2022. "Managing Inequality Over Business Cycles: Optimal Policies With Heterogeneous Agents And Aggregate Shocks," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 63(1), pages 511-540, February.
    5. Hoffmann, Eran B. & Malacrino, Davide, 2019. "Employment time and the cyclicality of earnings growth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 160-171.
    6. Stéphane Auray & Aurélien Eyquem, 2018. "Robots in a Small Open Economy," Working Papers 2018-17, Center for Research in Economics and Statistics.
    7. Juergen Jung & Chung Tran, 2017. "Health Risk, Insurance and Optimal Progressive Income Taxation," Working Papers 2017-01, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2020.
    8. Olivier J. Blanchard & Lawrence H. Summers, 2017. "Rethinking Stabilization Policy: Evolution or Revolution?," NBER Working Papers 24179, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Engler, Philipp & Strehl, Wolfgang, 2016. "The macroeconomic effects of progressive taxes and welfare," Discussion Papers 2016/23, Free University Berlin, School of Business & Economics.
    10. Euiyoung Jung, 2021. "On the design of labor market programs as stabilization policies," Working Papers halshs-03243698, HAL.
    11. Sushant Acharya & Keshav Dogra, 2020. "Understanding HANK: Insights From a PRANK," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(3), pages 1113-1158, May.
    12. Juergen Jung & Chung Tran, 2018. "Optimal Progressive Income Taxation in a Bewley-Grossman Framework," ANU Working Papers in Economics and Econometrics 2018-662, Australian National University, College of Business and Economics, School of Economics.
    13. Paweł Kopiec, 2022. "The Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Fiscal Stimuli," Working Papers 2022-070, Warsaw School of Economics, Collegium of Economic Analysis.
    14. Faria-e-Castro, Miguel, 2021. "Fiscal policy during a pandemic," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 125(C).
    15. Popp, Aaron, 2017. "Unemployment insurance in a three-state model of the labor market," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 142-157.
    16. Kopiec, Pawel, 2019. "Household Heterogeneity and the Value of Government Spending Multiplier: an Analytical Characterization," MPRA Paper 93499, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Mr. Davide Malacrino & Eran B. Hoffmann, 2018. "Employment Time and the Cyclicality of Earnings Growth," IMF Working Papers 2018/115, International Monetary Fund.

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    JEL classification:

    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General

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