A public program of unemployment benefits aims to protect people against job loss, but it should ideally be designed so that it doesn’t encourage them to stay out of work too much longer than they otherwise would. This research explores how policy can achieve the ideal balance between maximizing the insurance value of benefits while minimizing the incentive cost. Analyzing data from Sweden on unemployment, consumption, income, and wealth, the findings indicate that contrary to recent reforms that push towards making the generosity of benefits decline over the unemployment spell, it is more socially desirable to reduce benefits for the short-term unemployed in order to raise them for the long-term unemployed.
What have been the economic impacts of existing government tax and expenditure programs? Among the questions looked at here:
To what degree have existing social insurance programs such as Social Security, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance helped stabilize household consumption? What economic distortions are created in the process?
How can the provision of key public services such as education and health care be made more cost effective?
How have existing safety-net programs done in alleviating poverty and improving the future success of poor children? To what degree do these programs distort household incentives?
What have been the economic impacts of recent and proposed tax reforms?
How should government bonds be sold? Research typically emphasizes how the auction design affects outcomes depending on the nature of demand and the competitive environment. This study combines models of strategic bidding in Treasury auctions with detailed bidding data to construct empirical measures that reveal the effectiveness of auctions. Applying these methods to data on US Treasury auctions shows that the gains from optimizing the auction mechanism are no more than 5 basis points. The research also quantifies the advantage enjoyed by primary dealers in these markets, who are able to observe the ‘willingness-to-pay’ of their customers who route their bids through them.
Economists are often accused of focusing excessively on GDP, with the result that government policies make GDP a priority to the detriment of other contributors to well-being. This research proposes a broader summary statistic that incorporates consumption, leisure, mortality and inequality. While the new statistic is highly correlated with GDP per capita, cross-national deviations are often large: Western Europe looks considerably closer to the United States; emerging Asia has not caught up as much; and many developing countries are further behind. Each component of the statistic plays a significant role in explaining these differences, with mortality being the most important. While still imperfect, the statistic arguably provides better guidance for determining public priorities and evaluating policies than does GDP alone.
In September 2008, the UK government announced a surprise stimulus policy in response to a dramatic fall in the housing market: a property transaction tax on houses sold in a certain price range was temporarily eliminated. This column reports research showing that this stimulus boosted transaction volumes by 20% and increased consumer spending by an amount equal to the forgone tax revenue. Cutting transaction taxes during economic downturns can thus be an effective way to stimulate both the housing market and the broader economy.
What are the effects of geographical variations in personal and corporate taxes on the location decisions of innovative individuals and companies? This column reports research showing that state taxes have a significant effect on the localization of star scientists and firms that employ star scientists. Local policy-makers would do well to consider this previously unrecognized cost of high taxes when deciding how much to tax highly productive, high-income workers.
Quantifying who benefits from corporate tax cuts requires estimates of the effects of taxes on the local economy and on the location decisions of firms and workers. This research analyses every change in state business taxes in the United States since 1980 to show that the largest beneficiaries from a tax cut are the owners of firms (40%), with landowners and workers splitting the remaining (60%) of the economic gains. Where the benefits of corporate tax cuts fall ultimately depends on the relative mobility of firms and workers – and many factors other than tax rates influence their choice of location.
In the US, most criminal cases are resolved before trial through plea bargain agreements. Given the extent to which cases are settled before trial, the impact of sentencing reforms will depend largely on how they affect these agreements as opposed to the outcome of cases argued in court. Therefore, the current debate over criminal justice must consider the role of plea bargaining. By adapting and applying a theoretical model of litigation to data on violent crime cases filed in North Carolina’s superior court system, this article attempts to examine the potential impact of several hypothetical policy interventions on the outcome of criminal cases. This provides a helpful tool for understanding the potential ramifications of sentencing reform.
Dave Donaldson is an empirical trade economist and recipient of the 2017 John Bates Clark Medal. His research examines the intersection of international trade and development economics. Donaldson’s paper “Railroads of the Raj: Estimating the Impact of Transportation Infrastructure?” (American Economic Review, forthcoming) investigates the economic benefits from building transportation infrastructure studying the case of railways in 19th century India. This paper is widely viewed as both a methodological breakthrough and substantively important paper in the field. The article below provides a summary of his work.
Recent growth in the number of Disability Insurance claimants has led to calls for substantial scaling back of the program. We evaluate the incentive cost of the DI program against its insurance value to those in need. The main failure of the program is the number of severely work limited who do not receive insurance: the program is badly targeted.
Tax collectors in developing countries collect far less tax revenue as a share of gross domestic product than tax collectors in higher income countries. In many of these developing countries, tax officials have discretion in assessing, enforcing, and auditing taxes. In addition, they earn relatively low wages with fewer rewards for good performance, allowing for the possibility of collusion with taxpayers. In the case of property taxes, officials may accept payments in exchange for leaving properties off the tax rolls, granting inappropriate exemptions, or assessing properties at a lower rate, all of which lead to lower revenues for the state.