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Finding a Way Out of America's Demographic Dilemma

Author

Listed:
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff
  • Kent Smetters
  • Jan Walliser

Abstract

Notwithstanding the rosy short-term fiscal scenarios being advanced in Washington, the demographic transition presents the United States with a very serious fiscal crisis. In 30 years there will be twice the number of elderly, but only 15 percent more workers to help pay Social Security and Medicare benefits. A realistic reading of the government demographic projections suggests a two thirds increase in payroll tax rates over the next three to five decades. However, these forecasts ignore macroeconomic feedback effects. In particular, they ignore the possibility that the nation will have more capital per worker as the number of elderly wealth-holders rises relative to the number of young workers. More capital per worker would mean higher worker productivity, higher real wages, and the lower return to capital that worries Wall Street. It would also mean a bigger payroll tax base and a smaller rise in tax rates. On the other hand, a higher payroll tax will leave workers with less after-tax income out of which to save and, therefore, fewer retirement assets than would otherwise be the case. Thus capital deepening is not a foregone conclusion. This study develops a dynamic general equilibrium life-cycle simulation model to study these conflicting forces. The model is the first of its kind to admit realistic patterns of fertility and lifespan extension. It also features heterogeneity, within as well as across generations, and, thus, can be used to study both intra- and intergenerational equity. Unfortunately, our baseline demographic simulation, which assumes the continuation of current social security policy, shows deteriorating macroeconomic conditions that will exacerbate, rather than mitigate, our fiscal problems. Real wages per effective unit of labor fall 4 percent over the next 30 years and 10 percent over the century. For Wall Street, this bad news about real wages is good news about the real return on capital, which rises 100 basis points by 2030 and 300 basis points by 2100. The model's gradual capital shallowing reflects the concomitant major rise in tax rates. In 2030, payroll tax rates and average income-tax rates applied to wages are 77 and 9 percent higher, respectively, than in 2000. Together, these tax hikes raise

Suggested Citation

  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Kent Smetters & Jan Walliser, 2001. "Finding a Way Out of America's Demographic Dilemma," NBER Working Papers 8258, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8258
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Barbara Berkel & Axel Börsch-Supan & Alexander Ludwig & Joachim Winter, 2004. "Sind die Probleme der Bevölkerungsalterung durch eine höhere Geburtenrate lösbar?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 5(1), pages 71-90, February.
    2. Gerhard Glomm & Juergen Jung, 2012. "A Macroeconomic Analysis of Energy Subsidies in a Small Open Economy: The Case of Egypt," Caepr Working Papers 2012-006, Center for Applied Economics and Policy Research, Economics Department, Indiana University Bloomington.
    3. Attanasio, Orazio & Kitao, Sagiri & Violante, Giovanni L., 2007. "Global demographic trends and social security reform," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 144-198, January.
    4. repec:cup:macdyn:v:22:y:2018:i:02:p:501-540_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Hans Fehr & Sabine Jokisch & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2007. "Will China Eat Our Lunch or Take Us to Dinner? Simulating the Transition Paths of the United States, the European Union, Japan, and China," NBER Chapters,in: Fiscal Policy and Management in East Asia, NBER-EASE, Volume 16, pages 133-193 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Jorgensen, Ole Hagen, 2013. "Efficiency and equity implications of oil windfalls in Brazil," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6597, The World Bank.
    7. Jess Heinrich, 2006. "Steuerfinanzierung von Sozialleistungen? / Tax Funding of Social Security Benefits?: Verteilungs- und Effizienzeffekte einer Umfinanzierung von Sozialleistungen in der gesetzlichen Renten- und Kranken," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 226(4), pages 436-462, August.
    8. Ermolieva, Tatiana, 2005. "Simulation-based optimization of social security systems under uncertainty," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 166(3), pages 782-793, November.
    9. Gerhard Glomm & Juergen Jung, 2010. "A Macroeconomic Analysis of the Fiscal System in Egypt," Working Papers 2010-17, Towson University, Department of Economics, revised Oct 2010.
    10. Assar Lindbeck & Mats Persson, 2003. "The Gains from Pension Reform," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 74-112, March.
    11. Maria Laura Alzua & Hernan Ruffo, 2011. "Effects of Argentina's Social Security Reform on Labor Markets and Poverty," Working Papers MPIA 2011-11, PEP-MPIA.
    12. Holmøy, Erling & Strøm, Birger, 2013. "Computable General Equilibrium Assessments of Fiscal Sustainability in Norway," Handbook of Computable General Equilibrium Modeling, Elsevier.
    13. Glomm, Gerhard & Jung, Juergen & Tran, Chung, 2018. "Fiscal Austerity Measures: Spending Cuts Vs. Tax Increases," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(02), pages 501-540, March.

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    JEL classification:

    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents

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