This paper discusses the nature of the uncertainty faced by central banks and considers three approaches to dealing with uncertainty(1) formal optimization models and robust rules based on such models; (2) informal rules like the Taylor rule and inflation targeting; and (3) a case by case approach based on an informal Bayesian logic. The latter case requires considering the asymmetric nature of the risks that the central bank often faces.
Productivity in the United States has been growing faster in the past seven years than it did in the previous quarter century. U.S. productivity growth accelerated while that in Europe declined. This paper asks why U.S. productivity growth has been faster than in the past and than in Europe. An important reason for the faster growth has been the strong incentives for managers at all levels to make the kinds of changes that can raise productivity even if that involves personal risk and discomfort. These incentives became much stronger during the 1990s for reasons that I speculate about but do not begin to understand fully. The information technology developments in personal computers and in internet and intranet communications provided a powerful means to achieve the productivity gains that everyone was seeking. But even if the new IT opportunities had not come along, the combination of strong incentives and a receptive corporate climate would have led managers to find other ways to increase productivity, although undoubtedly not by as much. European firms had neither the incentive structure nor the corporate environment supportive of making change that could involve significant job changes and layoffs. Although Europe has higher unemployment rates, it is much more difficult to lay off workers in Europe than in the United States. Reorganizing white collar work to change job assignments and locations is also much easier in the U.S. than in Europe. The future is likely to see continued strong productivity growth and perhaps even increasing productivity growth in the United States if the incentives and corporate environments remain supportive. The prospects for Europe remain uncertain.
Although there is now widespread agreement in the economics profession that discretionary counter-cyclical'fiscal policy has not contributed to economic stability and may have actually been destabilizing at particular times in the past, there is one important condition when discretionary fiscal policy can play a constructive role: in a sustained downturn when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. This short note begins by summarizing the general case against using fiscal policy for stabilization. It next considers the argument for using a hyperexpansive' monetary policy to reduce the risk that a low rate of inflation will lead to a deflationary situation in which monetary policy becomes ineffective. Such a policy would increase the risk of asset price bubbles and of a misaligned exchange rate. Discretionary fiscal policy provides an alternative way to stimulate the economy when aggregate demand and interest rates are low and when prices are falling or may soon be falling. A stimulus can be achieved without increasing budget deficits if the fiscal policy acts by providing an incentive for increased private spending. Specific examples for the U.S. and Japan are considered.
This paper presents several alternative Social Security reform options in which the projected level of benefits for every future cohort of retirees is as high or higher than the benefits projected in current law. These future benefits can be achieved without any increase in the payroll tax or in other tax rates. Under each option, the Social Security Trust Fund is solvent and ends with a sustainable positive and growing balance. Each option combines the current pay-as-you-go system of defined benefits with an investment-based personal retirement account (PRA). Assets in the PRA can be bequeathed if the individual dies before normal retirement age. We also consider the option in which an individual can take all or part of his accumulated PRA balanced as a lump sum at normal retirement age. The basic plan that we present in greatest detail combines a transfer to the personal retirement account of a portion of the individual's payroll tax equal to 1.5 percent of earnings if the individual agrees to deposit an equal out-of-pocket amount. The additional national saving that results from this option leads to increased business investment and therefore to increased general tax revenue; a portion of that revenue, equal to 1 percent of the PRA balances , is transferred to the Social Security Trust Fund. The other options that we present include plans with no out-of-pocket contributions by individuals and others with no transfer of general revenue to the Trust Fund. We also discuss the implications of different rates of return on the PRA balances and, more generally, the issue of risk, including a market-based method of guaranteeing the real principal of all PRA deposits.
Feldstein M, Siebert H. Introduction. In: Social Security Pension Reform in Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press ; 2002.
In this paper we study the distributional impact of a change from the existing pay-as-you-go Social Security system to one that combines both pay-as-you-go and investment-based elements. Critics of investment-based plans have been concerned that such plans might reduce the retirement income of low-paid workers or of surviving spouses relative to what they would get from Social Security, and might therefore increase the extent of poverty among the aged. Our analysis in this paper shows that this is generally not the case, even in plans that make no special effort to maintain or increase redistribution. Our principal finding is that virtually all of the demographic groups that we examine would receive higher average benefits under a mixed system with an investment-based component than the benefits that they would receive under current Social Security rules. There would also be a smaller share of individuals with benefits below the poverty line even though the total cost of funding the mixed system -- a three percent saving contribution rather than a six percent rise in the tax rate -- is substantially lower than that of funding the pay-as-you-go system. Our individual-level data permit us to go beyond comparing group means to analyze the full distribution of the benefits that individuals would receive under the two different systems. These comparisons show that the overwhelming majority of individuals would have higher benefits with the investment-based system than with the pure pay-as-you-go system. The relatively small number of individuals who would receive less from the investment-based system is further reduced when the effects of the Supplementary Security Income program is taken into account. These basic conclusions remain true even if the future rate of return in the investment-based component of the mixed system is substantially less than past experience implies.