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Individual Risk and Intergenerational Risk Sharing in an Investment-Based Social Security Program

  • Martin Feldstein
  • Elena Ranguelova

This paper examines the risk aspects of a fully phased-in investment-based defined contribution Social Security plan. Individuals save a fraction of wages in a Personal Retirement Account (PRA) invested in a 60:40 equity-debt mix and receive a similarly invested variable annuity from age 67. The value of the portfolio follows a random walk with historic (1946-1995) mean log real return of 5.5 percent and standard deviation of 12.5 percent. We study 10,000 stochastic distributions of this process for the 80 year experience from 1998 to 2077. With a nonstochastic 5.5 percent rate of return, individuals could purchase the future benefits promised in the current Social Security law (the benchmark' level of benefits) by saving 3.1 percent of earnings, just one-sixth of the payroll tax that Social Security actuaries project will be needed in the paygo system. A higher saving rate provides a cushion' that reduces the risk of unacceptably low benefits. For example, saving 6 percent implies a median annuity at age 67 or 2.1 times the benchmark benefits and only a 17 percent chance that the annuity is less than the benchmark. In 95 percent of the potential investment experience the annuity exceeds 61 percent of the benchmark benefit. With a 9 percent saving rate (half of the tax rate required in a pay- as-you-go system), there is only a 6 percent chance that the annuity is less than the benchmark and in 95 percent of the potential investment experience the annuity exceeds 92 percent of the benchmark benefit. We also study a modified plan in which retirees face no risk of receiveing less than the benchmark benefit because the government provides a conditional pension transfer to any retiree whose annuity is less in any year than the benchmark level of benefits. With a six percent saving rate, a conditional transfer is required in only about 40 percent of the simulations. The expected value of the transfers is substantially less than the expected incremental corporate tax revenue that results from the Personal Retirement Account saving. Additional tax revenue is needed in fewer than one percent of the simulations. In short, a pure defined contribution plan, with a saving rate equal to one third of the long-run projected payroll tax, invested in a 60:40 equity-debt Personal Retirement Account could provide a retirement annuity that is likely to be substantially more than the benchmark benefit while exposing the retiree to relatively little risk that the annuity will be less than the benchmark. Even this risk can be completely eliminated by a conditional guarantee plan that imposed only a very small risk on future taxpayers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6839.

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Date of creation: Dec 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Feldstein, Martin and Elena Ranguelova. "Individual Risk In An Investment-Based Social Security System," American Economic Review, 2001, v91(4,Sep), 1116-1125.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6839
Note: AG PE
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  1. Kocherlakota, N., 1995. "The Equity Premium: It's Still a Puzzle," Working Papers 95-05, University of Iowa, Department of Economics.
  2. Feldstein, Martin (ed.), 1998. "Privatizing Social Security," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226241012, March.
  3. Hugett, M. & Ventura, G., 1997. "On the Distributional Effects of Social Security Reform," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9710, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
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  8. Martin Feldstein & Elena Ranguelova, 1999. "The Economics of Bequests in Pensions and Social Security," NBER Working Papers 7065, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  10. Martin Feldstein, 1998. "Privatizing Social Security," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld98-1, July.
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  12. Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "Social Security," NBER Working Papers 8451, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
  13. Peter Diamond, 1998. "The Economics of Social Security Reform," NBER Working Papers 6719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  15. Bohn, Henning, 1998. "Risk Sharing in a Stochastic Overlapping Generations Economy," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt9r2809f0, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
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  17. Paul A. Samuelson, 1958. "An Exact Consumption-Loan Model of Interest with or without the Social Contrivance of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 66, pages 467.
  18. 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.
  19. Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson, 1998. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Working Papers 6603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1, July.
  21. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Smetters, Kent A & Walliser, Jan, 1998. "Social Security: Privatization and Progressivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 137-41, May.
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  23. Martin Feldstein & Andrew Samwick, 1996. "The Transition Path in Privatizing Social Security," NBER Working Papers 5761, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Robert C. Merton, 1983. "On the Role of Social Security as a Means for Efficient Risk Sharing in an Economy Where Human Capital Is Not Tradable," NBER Chapters, in: Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System, pages 325-358 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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