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Stabilization versus insurance: Welfare effects of procyclical taxation under incomplete markets

  • James S. Costain
  • Michael Reiter

We construct and calibrate a general equilibrium business cycle model with unemployment and precautionary saving. We compute the cost of business cycles and locate the optimum in a set of simple cyclical fiscal policies. Our economy exhibits productivity shocks, giving firms an incentive to hire more when productivity is high. However, business cycles make workers' income riskier, both by increasing the unconditional probability of unusually long unemployment spells, and by making wages more variable, and therefore they decrease social welfare by around one-fourth or one-third of 1% of consumption. Optimal fiscal policy offsets the cycle, holding unemployment benefits constant but varying the tax rate procyclically to smooth hiring. By running a deficit of 4% to 5% of output in recessions, the government eliminates half the variation in the unemployment rate, most of the variation in workers'aggregate consumption, and most of the welfare cost of business cycles.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 890.

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Date of creation: Nov 2004
Date of revision: Aug 2005
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:890
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. Tom Krebs, 2004. "Welfare Cost of Business Cycles When Markets Are Incomplete," Working Papers 2004-08, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  2. Gomes, Joao F & Greenwood, Jeremy & Rebelo, Sérgio, 1997. "Equilibrium Unemployment," CEPR Discussion Papers 1602, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Jeremy Greenwood & Gregory W. Huffman, 1991. "Tax analysis in a real business cycle model: on measuring Harberger triangles and Okun gaps," Staff Report 138, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Storesletten, Kjetil & Telmer, Chris I. & Yaron, Amir, 2001. "The welfare cost of business cycles revisited: Finite lives and cyclical variation in idiosyncratic risk," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(7), pages 1311-1339.
  5. Stephanie Schmitt-Grohe & Martin Uribe, 2001. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy under Imperfect Competition," Departmental Working Papers 200101, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  6. James S. Costain & Michael Reiter, 2003. "Business cycles, unemployment insurance and the calibration of matching models," Economics Working Papers 872, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2006.
  7. Tom Krebs, 2007. "Job Displacement Risk and the Cost of Business Cycles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 664-686, June.
  8. Albert Marcet & Thomas J. Sargent & Juha Seppala, 1996. "Optimal taxation without state-contingent debt," Economics Working Papers 170, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2001.
  9. Barro, Robert J., 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Scholarly Articles 3451400, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  10. Robert Shimer, 2005. "The Cyclical Behavior of Equilibrium Unemployment and Vacancies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 25-49, March.
  11. Andrew Atkeson & Christopher Phelan, 1994. "Reconsidering the Costs of Business Cycles with Incomplete Markets," NBER Working Papers 4719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Robert Shimer, 2004. "The Consequences of Rigid Wages in Search Models," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(2-3), pages 469-479, 04/05.
  13. Tom Krebs, 2003. "Growth and Welfare Effects of Business Cycles in Economies with Idiosyncratic Human Capital Risk," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 6(4), pages 846-868, October.
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