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Issues in the Measurement and Interpretation of Saving and Wealth

  • Michael J. Boskin
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    Alternative measures of saving are developed and compared to the traditional NIPA estimates. Various data sources and estimation methodologies all conclude that adjustments for net saving in durables, government capital, capital gains and losses, and revaluations are substantial. For example, government capital and durables adjustments raise the NIPA estimate of net national saving in 1985 from 4.7% to 8.8%. New estimates of saving, developed and measured as the change in real net worth based on data from the Federal Reserve Flow of Funds National Balance Sheets, differ substantially from the NIPA estimates. For example, in 1986 and 1987, the NIPA net national saving measure is 1.8% and 1.9%, respectively, whereas my corresponding estimates from FED data are 11.5% and 3.3%. My new estimates of net private saving from FED data average 6.5% for the period 1981-87, versus 11.3% for the 1951-80 period. Net national saving has fallen even further, from an average of 11.2% in 1951-80 to 3.2% in 1981-87. Correspondingly, real private net worth reached 13.4 trillion (in constant 1982 dollars) by 1987, but its rate of growth slowed in the period 1979-87 relative to the postwar average. Various conceptual and measurement issues are discussed. Most important are 1) the appropriate level of aggregation across households of different age and type, sectors of the economy, and types of assets, and 2) improved measures of personal income to include as much currently unrecorded income as possible.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2633.

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    Date of creation: Jun 1988
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    Publication status: published as "Fifty Years of Economic Measurement: The Jubilee of the Conference of the Conference on Research in Income and Wealth," Studies in Income and Wealth, Vol 54, eds. E. Berndt and J. Triplett, pp. 159-183. Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1991.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2633
    Note: PE
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    1. David, Paul A & Scadding, John L, 1974. "Private Savings: Ultrarationality, Aggregation, and "Denison's Law."," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 225-49, Part I, M.
    2. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1987. "Ricardian Equivalence: An Evaluation of Theory and Evidence," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1987, Volume 2, pages 263-316 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Michael J. Boskin & Marc S. Robinson & John M. Roberts, 1985. "New Estimates of Federal Government Tangible Capital and Net Investment," NBER Working Papers 1774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Boskin, Michael J, 1982. "Federal Government Deficits: Some Myths and Realities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(2), pages 296-303, May.
    5. Boskin, Michael J, 1988. "Consumption, Saving, and Fiscal Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 401-07, May.
    6. Michael J. Boskin & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Douglas J. Puffert & John B. Shoven, 1986. "Social Security: A Financial Appraisal Across and Within Generations," NBER Working Papers 1891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Katz, Arnold J, 1983. "Valuing the Services of Consumer Durables," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 29(4), pages 405-27, December.
    8. Hurd, Michael D, 1987. "Savings of the Elderly and Desired Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 298-312, June.
    9. B. Douglas Bernheim & John B. Shoven, 1985. "Pension Funding and Saving," NBER Working Papers 1622, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1988. "Pensions in the U.S. Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi88-1, December.
    11. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1981. "Credit Rationing in Markets with Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 393-410, June.
    12. Robert E. Lipsey & Helen Stone Tice, 1989. "The Measurement of Saving, Investment, and Wealth," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number lips89-1, December.
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