Rational and not so rational retirement choices
Covid alters lives on so many dimensions, one fails to memorize them all. One of the pretty important to the scientific community is that the most important annual conferences are either canceled or moved to a virtual format. It is not the same thing, really, to have 1200 people on virtual rather than in direct contact. But European Economic Association has done everything possible to make this event a success. On the bright side, we can no longer complain about coffee -- as everybody drinks their preferred one.
We listened to many fantastic presentations, and discussed two of our papers. The first one, studies old-age savings and government incentives intended to raise old-age savings. Financing consumption of the elderly in the face of the projected increase in life expectancy is a key challenge for economic policy. Moreover, standard structural models with fully rational agents suggest that about 50-60 percent of old-age consumption is financed with voluntary savings, even in the presence of a fairly generous public pension system. This is clearly inconsistent with either the data, or the alarming simulations of old-age poverty in the years to come. Old-age saving (OAS) schemes are widely used policy instruments to address this challenge, but structural evaluations of such instruments remain rare. We develop a framework with incompletely rational agents: lacking financial literacy and experiencing commitment difficulties. We study a broad selection of OAS schemes and find that they raise welfare of financially illiterate agents and to a lesser extent improve welfare of agents with a high degree of time inconsistency. They also reduce the incidence of poverty at old age. Unfortunately, these instruments are fiscally costly, induce considerable crowd-out and direct fiscal transfers mostly to those agents, who need it the least.
The second paper studies the interaction between capital (income) taxation and pension system reform in the context of rising longevity. In an economy with idiosyncratic income shocks and uncertainty about life duration, defined benefit pension plans with redistribution (similar to the current US pension system) provide some insurance against these risks. The existing view in the literature states that the current pension system in the US introduces distortions to labor supply decisions and reduces capital accumulation, but reducing this distortion by the means of introducing (partially) funded defined contribution system involves loss of insurance and transitory fiscal gap, which dominate the benefits of reform. Prior financed the transitory costs of the reform by taxing consumption. We show that in the context of longevity, capital income taxation provides a superior alternative: welfare gains are sufficient to outweigh the loss of insurance and transitory funding costs. Our approach builds on optimal taxation literature: taxes should be levied on the least responsive tax base, and growing life expectancy raises incentives for capital accumulation. Further, higher risk exposure amplifies incentives for precautionary savings. These two mechanisms -- the rising longevity and the stronger precautionary motive -- make capital accumulation relatively less responsive to the tax hikes, thus reducing the dead-weight loss from increased taxation. In the long run, privatizing social security permits lower taxation, thus boosting capital income gains, accelerating capital accumulation, and economic progress. We reconcile our results with the earlier literature. We also study the political economy context and show that political support for capital income taxation is feasible.