Paper # Author Title
We propose a new category of consumption goods, memorable goods, that generate a flow of utility after consumption. We analyze an otherwise standard consumption model that distinguishes memorable goods from other nondurable goods. Consumers optimally choose lumpy consumption of memorable goods. We empirically document differences between levels and volatilities of memorable and other goods expenditures. Memorable goods expenditures are about twice durable goods expenditures and half the volatility. The welfare cost of consumption fluctuations driven by income shocks are overstated if memorable goods are not accounted for and estimates of excess sensitivity of consumption might be due to memorable goods. Download Paper
How much additional tax revenue can the government generate by increasing labor income taxes? In this paper we provide a quantitative answer to this question, and study the importance of the progressivity of the tax schedule for the ability of the government to generate tax revenues. We develop a rich overlapping generations model featuring an explicit family structure, extensive and intensive margins of labor supply, endogenous accumulation of labor market experience as well as standard intertemporal consumption-savings choices in the presence of uninsurable idiosyncratic labor productivity risk. We calibrate the model to US macro, micro and tax data and characterize the labor income tax Laffer curve under the current choice of the progressivity of the labor income tax code as well as when varying progressivity. We find that more progressive labor income taxes significantly reduce tax revenues. For the US, converting to a flat tax code raises the peak of the Laffer curve by 6%, whereas converting to a tax system with progressivity similar to Denmark, would lower the peak by 7%. We also show that, relative to a representative agent economy tax revenues are less sensitive to the progressivity of the tax code in our economy. This finding is due to the fact that labor supply of two earner households is less elastic (along the intensive margin) and the endogenous accumulation of labor market experience makes labor supply of females less elastic (around the extensive margin) to changes in tax progressivity. Download Paper
In this paper we argue that very high marginal labor income tax rates are an effective tool for social insurance even when households have preferences with high labor supply elasticity, make dynamic savings decisions, and policies have general equilibrium effects. To make this point we construct a large scale Overlapping Generations Model with uninsurable labor productivity risk, show that it has a wealth distribution that matches the data well, and then use it to characterize fiscal policies that achieve a desired degree of redistribution in society. We find that marginal tax rates on the top 1% of the earnings distribution of close to 90% are optimal. We document that this result is robust to plausible variation in the labor supply elasticity and holds regardless of whether social welfare is measured at the steady state only or includes transitional generations. Download Paper
This paper constructs a dynamic model of health insurance to evaluate the short- and long-run effects of policies that prevent firms from conditioning wages on health conditions of their workers, and that prevent health insurance companies from charging individuals with adverse health conditions higher insurance premia. Our study is motivated by recent US legislation that has tightened regulations on wage discrimination against workers with poorer health status (such as Americans with Disability Act of 1990, ADA, and its amendment in 2008, the ADAAA) and that prohibits health insurance companies from charging different premiums for workers of different health status starting in 2014 (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA). In the model, a trade-off arises between the static gains from better insurance against poor health induced by these policies and their adverse dynamic incentive effects on household efforts to lead a healthy life. Using household panel data from the PSID we estimate and calibrate the model and then use it to evaluate the static and dynamic consequences of no-wage discrimination and no-prior conditions laws for the evolution of the cross-sectional health and consumption distribution of a cohort of households, as well as ex-ante lifetime utility of a typical member of this cohort. In our quantitative analysis we find that although the competitive equilibrium features too little consumption insurance and a combination of both policies is effective in providing such insurance period by period, it is suboptimal to introduce both policies jointly since such a policy innovation severely undermines the incentives to lead healthier lives and thus induces a more rapid deterioration of the cohort health distribution over time. This effect more than offsets the static gains from better consumption insurance so that expected discounted lifetime utility is lower under both policies, relative to implementing wage nondiscrimination legislation alone. This is true despite the fact that both policy options are strongly welfare improving relative to the competitive equilibrium. Download Paper
The recent public debt crisis in most developed economies implies an urgent need for increasing tax revenues or cutting government spending. In this paper we study the importance of household heterogeneity and the progressivity of the labor income tax schedule for the ability of the government to generate tax revenues. We develop an overlapping generations model with uninsurable idiosyncratic risk, endogenous human capital accumulation as well as labor supply decisions along the intensive and extensive margins. We calibrate the model to macro, micro and tax data from the US as well as a number of European countries, and then for each country characterize the labor income tax Laffer curve under the current country-specific choice of the progressivity of the labor income tax code. We find that more progressive labor income taxes significantly reduce tax revenues. For the US, converting to a flat tax code raises the peak of the laffer curve by 7%. We also find that modeling household heterogeneity is important for the shape of the Laffer curve. Download Paper
We propose a new category of consumption goods, memorable goods, that generate a flow of utility after consumption. We analyze an otherwise standard consumption model that distinguishes memorable goods from other nondurable goods. Consumers optimally choose lumpy consumption of memorable goods. We then empirically document significant differences between levels and volatilities of memorable and other nondurable good expenditures. In two applications we find that the welfare cost of consumption fluctuations driven by income shocks are significantly overstated if memorable goods are not accounted for and that estimates of excess sensitivity of consumption might be entirely due to memorable goods. Download Paper
We propose a new classification of consumption goods into nondurable goods, durable goods and a new class which we call “memorable" goods. A good is memorable if a consumer can draw current utility from its past consumption experience through memory. We propose a novel consumption-savings model in which a consumer has a well-defined preference ordering over both nondurable goods and memorable goods. Memorable goods consumption differs from nondurable goods consumption in that current memorable goods consumption may also impact future utility through the accumulation process of the stock of memory. In our model, households optimally choose a lumpy profile of memorable goods consumption even in a frictionless world. Using Consumer Expenditure Survey data, we then document levels and volatilities of different groups of consumption goods expenditures, as well as their expenditure patterns, and show that the expenditure patterns on memorable goods indeed differ significantly from those on nondurable and durable goods. Finally, we empirically evaluate our model's predictions with respect to the welfare cost of consumption fluctuations and conduct an excess-sensitivity test of the consumption response to predictable income changes. We find that (i) the welfare cost of household-level consumption fluctuations may be overstated by 1:7 percentage points (11:9% points as opposed to 13:6% points of permanent consumption) if memorable goods are not appropriately accounted for; (ii) the finding of excess sensitivity of consumption documented in important papers of the literature might be entirely due to the presence of memorable goods. Download Paper
In this paper we characterize quantitatively the optimal mix of progressive income taxes and education subsidies in a model with endogeneous human capital formation, borrowing constraints, income risk and incomplete financial markets. Progressive labor income taxes provide social insurance against idiosyncratic income risk and redistributes after tax income among ex-ante heterogenous households. In addition to the standard distortions of labor supply progressive taxes also impede the incentives to acquire higher education, generation a non-trivial trade-off for the benevolent utilitarian government. The latter distortion can potentially be mitigated by an education subsidy. We find that the welfare-maximizing fiscal policy is indeed characterized by a substantially progressive labor income tax code and a positive subsidy for college education. Both the degree of tax progressivity and the education subsidy are larger than in the current U.S. status quo. Download Paper
This paper constructs a dynamic model of health insurance to evaluate the short- and long run effects of policies that prevent firms from conditioning wages on health conditions of their workers, and that prevent health insurance companies from charging individuals with adverse health conditions higher insurance premia. Our study is motivated by recent US legislation that has tightened regulations on wage discrimination against workers with poorer health status (Americans with Disability Act of 2009, ADA, and ADA Amendments Act of 2008, ADAAA) and that will prohibit health insurance companies from charging different premiums for workers of different health status starting in 2014 (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA). In the model, a trade-off arises between the static gains from better insurance against poor health induced by these policies and their adverse dynamic incentive effects on household efforts to lead a healthy life. Using household panel data from the PSID we estimate and calibrate the model and then use it to evaluate the static and dynamic consequences of no-wage discrimination and no-prior conditions laws for the evolution of the cross-sectional health and consumption distribution of a cohort of households, as well as ex-ante lifetime utility of a typical member of this cohort. In our quantitative analysis we find that although a combination of both policies is effective in providing full consumption insurance period by period, it is suboptimal to introduce both policies jointly since such policy innovation induces a more rapid deterioration of the cohort health distribution over time. This is due to the fact that combination of both laws severely undermines the incentives to lead healthier lives. The resulting negative effects on health outcomes in society more than offset the static gains from better consumption insurance so that expected discounted lifetime utility is lower under both policies, relative to only implementing wage nondiscrimination legislation. Download Paper
This paper evaluates the macroeconomic and distributional effects of government bailout guarantees for Government Sponsored Enterprises (such as Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac) in the mortgage market. In order to do so we construct a model with heterogeneous, in finitely lived households and competitive housing and mortgage markets. Households have the option to default on their mortgages, with the consequence of having their homes foreclosed. We model the bailout guarantee as a government provided and tax- financed mortgage interest rate subsidy. We fi nd that eliminating this subsidy leads to substantially lower equilibrium mortgage origination and increases aggregate welfare, but has little eff ect on foreclosure rates and housing investment. The interest rate subsidy is a regressive policy: eliminating it benefi ts low-income and low-asset households who did not own homes or had small mortgages, while lowering the welfare of high-income, high-asset households. Download Paper
This paper uses a seminonparametric model and Consumer Expenditure Survey data to estimate life cycle profiles of consumption, controlling for demographics, cohort and time effects. In addition to documenting profiles for total and nondurable consumption, we devote special attention to the age expenditure pattern for consumer durables. We find hump-shaped paths over the life cycle for total, for nondurable and for durable expenditures. Changes in household size account for roughly half of these humps. The other half remains unaccounted for by the standard complete markets life cycle model. Our results imply that households do not smooth consumption over their lifetimes. This is especially true for services from consumer durables. Bootstrap simulations suggest that our empirical estimates are tight and sensitivity analysis indicates that the computed profiles are robust to a large number of different specifications. Download Paper