Can the Unemployed Borrow? Implications for Public Insurance

September 28, 2018

By J. Carter Braxton, Gordon Phillips and Kyle Herkenhoff

Do the unemployed have access to credit markets? Yes. Do the unemployed borrow? Yes. We link administrative earnings records with credit reports and show that individuals maintain significant access to credit following job loss. Unconstrained job losers borrow, while constrained job losers default and delever. Both default and borrowing allow job losers to boost consumption, and they pay an interest rate premium to do so, i.e. the credit market acts as a limited private unemployment insurance market. We show theoretically that default costs allow credit markets to serve as a market for private unemployment insurance despite adverse selection and asymmetric information about future job loss. We then ask, given the degree of private unemployment insurance household’s have in the data, what is the optimal provision of public unemployment insurance? We find that the optimal provision of public insurance is unambiguously lower as credit access expands. The median voter in our simulated economy would prefer to have the replacement rate lowered from the current US policy of 45% to 35%. However, a utilitarian planner would actually prefer to raise UI relative to current US levels, even in the presence of well-developed credit markets.

The big lesson I get from this paper is that unemployment does not seem to hinder access to additional credit. This has important implication for unemployment insurance design, and I would really like to know whether this is a result that can generalize to other economies.


The Costs and Benefits of Caring: Aggregate Burdens of an Aging Population

September 28, 2018

By Finn Kydland and Nicholas Pretnar

There has been recent attention to the increasing costs to individuals and families associated with caring for people who are afflicted with diseases such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s. In this paper we ask, what are the quantitative implications of these trends for important aggregates, including going forward in time. We develop an overlapping generations general equilibrium model that features government social insurance, idiosyncratic old-age health risk, and transfers of time on a market of informal hospice care from young agents to old agents. The model implies that the decline in annual output growth in the United States since the 1950s can be partly attributed to decreases in the working-age share of the adult population. When accounting for the time young people spend caring for sick elders, positive Social Security + Medicare taxes lead to reductions in the growth rate of annual output of approximately 20 basis points. Relative to an economy with no old-age insurance systems, Social Security + Medicare taxes lead to future reductions in output of 6% by 2056 and 17% by 2096. We show that depending on the working-age share of the adult population, eliminating Social Security + Medicare is not necessarily Pareto improving, leaving those afflicted by welfare-reducing diseases worse off. Placed in the context of an aging United States population, these phenomena could have dramatic or muted impacts on future economic outcomes depending on the prevalence rate of high-cost diseases and the rate at which labor is taxed to fund old-age consumption under a pay-as-you-go social insurance system.

This paper addresses a potentially important, yet neglected issue about aging: the additional burden of the various forms of dementia, which seem to become more prevalent. Depending how this condition and its treatment and prevention evolve, the impact could be dramatic.

Recursive equilibria in dynamic economies withbounded rationality

September 28, 2018

Runjie Geng

I provide a new way to model bounded rationality and show the existence of recursive equilibria with bounded rational agents. The existence proof applies to dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models with infinitely lived heterogeneous agents and incomplete markets. In this type of models, recursive methods are widely used to compute equilibria, yet recursive equilibria do not exist generically with rational agents. I change the rational expectation assumption and model bounded rationality as follows. Different from a rational agent, a bounded rational agent does not know the true Markov transition of the state space of the economy. In order to make decisions, the bounded rational agent would try to compute a stationary distribution of the state space using a numerical method and then use the Markov transition associated with it to maximize utility. For a certain distribution of the current period, given other agents’ strategies, the agent would get its next-period transition: the distribution of the state space in the next period that results from the competitive equilibrium in the next period. However, if a distribution stays “closer” to its next-period transition than the minimum error the numerical method can observe, the agent would consider it as computational stationary. In equilibrium, each agent maximizes utility with a computational stationary distribution and markets clear. I use the Kantorovich-Rubinshtein norm to characterize the distance between distributions of the state space. With this set up, usual convergence criteria used in the literature can be incorporated and thus many computed equilibria in the literature using recursive methods can be categorized as bounded rational recursive equilibria in the sense of this paper.

For DSGE models, bounded rationality looks like a serious implementation challenge. It looks like this paper provides a more palatable approach, in particular because it allows to use quite a bit of existing results and approaches.