Research & Analysis by Dean R. Leimer
A number of studies have used estimates of historical and projected lifetime net transfers (benefits less taxes) by birth cohort under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program to calculate and compare the aggregate present-value sum of such transfers for selected birth-cohort groups. Those calculations indicate that, from a program accounting perspective, the earliest generations of program participants received large transfers from later generations of participants. Some recent studies have referred to this cumulative transfer to the earliest generations as a “legacy debt” and characterized it as a burden borne by the later generations. This article clarifies the legacy debt concept and discusses the conditions required for a legacy debt to exist in a meaningful economic sense.
Historical Redistribution Under the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Programs
This study is the third in a series of studies that use comprehensive Social Security administrative data on past earnings and benefits by year, age, gender, and race to analyze historical redistribution across those characteristics under the Social Security program. It examines historical lifetime redistribution to date across and within cohorts born through 1927, combining and extending the results of the previous two studies, for which less historical data were available. Redistributional estimates incorporating the additional data confirm the results of the earlier studies relative lifetime redistributional outcomes to data under the DI program have generally been much more favorable for "Other Races" than for "Whites;" have generally been more favorable for females than for males in most, but not all, of the cohorts considered; and accumulated benefits have generally exceeded accumulated taxes by substantial margins for all but the earliest birth cohort groups. In contrast to outcomes under the OASI program, accumulated net transfers to date for very early birth cohorts have generally been negative under the DI program taken by itself, although the size of these negative net transfers is relatively small.
This study uses Social Security administrative data on past earnings and benefits by year, age, sex, and race to analyze historical redistribution under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program across and within cohorts born through the year 1922. The results generally support the findings of closely related previous research, confirming that early cohorts have received large accumulated net transfers to date, that females, as a group, have experienced substantially higher accumulated benefit/tax ratios and internal rates of return than their male counterparts in these cohorts, and that the "Other Races" group fared better by these measures than the "White" race group in most of the cohorts considered. Differences by race in the accumulated benefit/tax ratios estimated in this analysis are sensitive to the choice of the interest rate series and cohort grouping, however, and differ sharply between males and females under some of the interest rate assumptions.
This article provides a brief overview of the more important studies of lifetime redistribution under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) programs. Studies are categorized into two types, those that focus on redistribution across successive cohorts of workers or typical members of those cohorts and those that focus on the distribution of results across characteristics of interest within particular cohorts of workers. A list of related studies is provided at the end of the article for those interested in additional reading.
This paper provides a brief overview of the more important studies of lifetime redistribution under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) programs. Studies are categorized into two types: those that focus on redistribution across successive cohorts of workers or typical members of those cohorts, and those that focus on the distribution of results across characteristics of interest within particular cohorts of workers. A list of related studies is provided at the end for those interested in additional reading.
This study uses Social Security administrative data on historical taxes and benefits by year, age, gender, and race for an ex post analysis of redistribution under the Disability Insurance (DI) program. The relationship between the taxes paid and benefits received to date under the program is described for successive cohorts as a whole and for specific race and gender groups both within cohorts and across time.
This study uses Social Security administrative data on historical taxes and benefits by year, age, gender, and race for an ex post analysis of redistribution under the Disability Insurance program. The relationship between the taxes paid and benefits received to date under the program is described for successive cohorts as a whole and for specific race and gender groups both within cohorts and across time.
This article discusses some of the major issues associated with the question of whether workers receive their money's worth from the Social Security program. An effort is made to keep the discussion as nontechnical as possible, with explanations provided for many of the technical terms and concepts found in the money's worth literature. Major assumptions, key analytical methods, and money's worth measures used in the literature are also discussed. Finally, the key findings of money's worth studies are summarized, with some cautions concerning the limitations and appropriate usage of money's worth analyses.
This paper discusses some of the major issues associated with the question of whether workers receive their money's worth from the Social Security program. An effort is made to keep the discussion as nontechnical as possible, with explanations provided for many of the technical terms and concepts found in the money's worth literature. Major assumptions, key analytical methods, and money's worth measures used in the literature are also discussed. Finally, the key findings of money's worth studies are summarized, with some cautions concerning the limitations and appropriate usage of money's worth analyses.
This paper develops estimates of lifetime net transfers across cohorts under the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program. Estimates are developed both from the perspective of individual cohorts, indicating the extent to which each cohort has received or can expect to receive its money's worth from the program, and from the perspective of the OASI program, indicating the extent of redistribution across cohorts. This paper also contrasts intercohort redistribution under the present OASI program with the redistribution that would have occurred under two counterfactual pay-as-you-go programs that incorporate different implicit standards of fairness. The data sources and techniques employed in this analysis provide a more accurate and extensive description of the treatment of different cohorts under the OASI program than has been available to date. Estimates based on past or projected data are presented for all cohorts participating in the OASI program since its inception through the cohort born in 2050.
Simulating the Long-Run Aggregate Economic and Intergenerational Redistributive Effects of Social Security Policy
This paper reports on the status of a long-run simulation model of the U.S. economy and its relationships with the Social Security program that was designed with these considerations in mind. The model was developed specifically to analyze the potential equity and efficiency effects of alternative Social Security policies in a long-run context.
A Mathematical Demonstration of the Pareto Optimality of Pay-As-You-Go Social Security Programs in a Closed Economy
A 1989 article by Breyer concludes that it is impossible to compensate pensioners in the transition from a pay-as-you-go public pension system to a privatized or funded system without making at least one later generation worse off; Breyer reaches this conclusion in the context of a simple overlapping generations model of a closed economy under the assumption that the transition results in increased saving by workers. Although this conclusion is correct under the increased saving assumption in the relevant domain of the production function, the proof that Breyer provides is not sufficient to establish that fact. This note extends Breyer's analysis to provide a sufficient proof.
In recent years, a number of proposals have been advanced for privatizing all or part of the Social Security program in the United States. These proposals range from the immediate abolition to the gradual phasing-out of Social Security taxes and benefits. This paper evaluates several premises that often underlie privatization proposals—that rates of return in the private sector exceed those implicit in the Social Security program, that privatization would lead to an increase in national saving, and that privatization could somehow improve the lifetime welfare of all affected generations. The paper first considers whether rates of return in the private sector actually exceed those implicit in the Social Security program and discuss the conditions required for privatization to lead to an increase in national saving. The paper then demonstrates theoretically that an existing, well-managed, pay-as-you-go social security program is Pareto optimal in an economy with exogenous factor prices, regardless of the extent to which privately available rates of return exceed those implicit in the pay-as-you-go program; i.e., no privatization scheme can be found that benefits at least one present or future generation without harming at least one other generation, and no scheme can be found that allows the winners from privatization to compensate the losers and still come out ahead. The analysis is extended to incorporate the assumption of endogenous factor prices and the possibility that pay-as-you-go social security programs reduce private saving. The theoretical conclusions are illustrated by using a long-run economic projection model to simulate the aggregate economic and intergenerational redistributive effects of two stylized privatization schemes.
Some proponents of the privatization of the Social Security program in the United States have suggested that, because privately available rates of return exceed the internal rate of return implicit in that program, it may be possible to find Pareto-superior privatization schemes. In a similar vein, Townley (1981) argues that, so long as the government can incur debt, a Pareto-superior scheme can always be found to convert a dynamically inefficient pay-as-you-go Social Security program to a fully funded basis. This note uses Townley's own model to demonstrate analytically that Pareto-superior schemes to reverse a dynamically inefficient pay-as-you-go social security program do not exist, either through privatization or through conversion of the program to a fully funded basis.
This paper reports on an analysis of the consumption decisions of individuals. A consumption function is developed that can be viewed as an extension of the traditional life cycle-permanent income specification, with consumption determined as an age-specific proportion of current and prospective wealth. Special attention is focused on the degree of substitutability between current and prospective wealth and on the differential effects of the various types of prospective income flows on the consumption decision.
In a recent article in the Journal of Political Economy (Leimer and Lesnoy 1982), we presented new time series evidence that cast considerable doubt on earlier evidence presented by Martin Feldstein (1974) which implied that social security had a large and statistically significant negative effect on personal saving in the United States. Our results may be summarized as follows: First, the social security wealth variable used by Feldstein was seriously flawed as a result of a computer-programming error. Simply correcting this error substantially changes the estimated effect of social security on saving. Second, the statistical evidence depends upon assumptions which are embedded in the construction of the social security wealth variable. These assumptions relate, first, to how individuals form their expectations about the social security benefits they expect to receive and the social security taxes they expect to pay and, second, to estimates of the number of workers, dependent wives, and surviving widows who will receive benefits. Adopting reasonable assumptions that differ from those used by Feldstein leads to generally weaker estimates of the relationship between social security and saving. Finally, the estimated relationship between social security and saving is acutely sensitive to the period of estimation examined. We concluded that the time series evidence simply does not support the hypothesis that social security has substantially reduced personal saving in the United States.
The purpose of this paper is to consider several alternative specifications of the consumer expenditure function.
Social Security has sizable obligations to workers who contributed and made savings decisions in the anticipation of future benefits, and the assessment of future options must explicitly account for impacts on these as well as future participants. To this end, our paper develops cohort-specific, general-equilibrium comparisons of concrete policy alternatives.
Social Security and Private Saving: A Reexamination of the Time Series Evidence Using Alternative Social Security Wealth Variables
In an important article in the Journal of Political Economy , Martin Feldstein estimated that the introduction of the social security system had reduced personal saving by 50 percent, with serious consequences for capital formation and output. His conclusion was based on a consumer expenditure function estimated with U.S. time series data and incorporating a social security wealth variable of his construction.
The original intent of this paper was to examine the sensitivity of Feldstein's conclusions to certain assumptions underlying his construction of the social security variable. In particular, we wanted to examine the implication of his assumptions concerning how individuals perceive future benefits and taxes.