This paper examines the reliability of widely used surveys on U.S. businesses. We compare survey responses of business owners with administrative data and document large inconsistencies in business incomes, receipts, and the number of owners. We document problems due to nonrepresentative samples and measurement errors. Nonrepresentativeness is reflected in undersampling of owners with low incomes. Measurement errors arise because respondents do not refer to relevant documents and possibly because of framing issues. We discuss implications for statistics of interest, such as business valuations and returns. We conclude that predictions based on current survey data should be treated with caution.
We assess the welfare consequences of occupational licensing for workers and consumers. We estimate a model of labor market equilibrium in which licensing restricts labor supply but also affects labor demand via worker quality and selection. On the margin of occupations licensed differently between U.S. states, we find that licensing raises wages and hours but reduces employment. We estimate an average welfare loss of 12 percent of occupational surplus. Workers and consumers respectively bear 70 and 30 percent of the incidence. Higher willingness to pay offsets 80 percent of higher prices for consumers, and higher wages compensate workers for 60 percent of the cost of mandated investment in occupation-specific human capital.
How does wealth taxation differ from capital income taxation? When the return on investment is equal across individuals, a well-known result is that the two tax systems are equivalent. Motivated by recent empirical evidence documenting persistent heterogeneity in rates of return across individuals, we revisit this question. With such heterogeneity, the two tax systems have opposite implications for both efficiency and inequality. Under capital income taxation, entrepreneurs who are more productive, and therefore generate more income, pay higher taxes. Under wealth taxation, entrepreneurs who have similar wealth levels pay similar taxes regardless of their productivity, which expands the tax base, shifts the tax burden toward unproductive entrepreneurs, and raises the savings rate of productive ones. This reallocation increases aggregate productivity and output. In the simulated model parameterized to match the US data, replacing the capital income tax with a wealth tax in a revenue-neutral fashion delivers a significantly higher average lifetime utility to a newborn (about 7.5% in consumption-equivalent terms). Turning to optimal taxation, the optimal wealth tax (OWT) in a stationary equilibrium is positive and yields even larger welfare gains. In contrast, the optimal capital income tax (OCIT) is negative—a subsidy—and large, and it delivers lower welfare gains than the wealth tax. Furthermore, the subsidy policy increases consumption inequality, whereas the wealth tax reduces it slightly. We also consider an extension that models the transition path and find that individuals who are alive at the time of the policy change, on average, would incur large welfare losses if the new policy is OCIT but would experience large welfare gains if the new policy is an OWT. We conclude that wealth taxation has the potential to raise productivity while simultaneously reducing consumption inequality.
During the past two decades, households experienced increases in their average wages and expenditures alongside with divergent trends in their wages, expenditures, and time allocation. We develop a model with incomplete asset markets and household heterogeneity in market and home technologies and preferences to account for these labor market trends and assess their welfare consequences. Using micro data on expenditures and time use, we identify the sources of heterogeneity across households, document how these sources have changed over time, and perform counterfactual analyses. Given the observed increase in leisure expenditures relative to leisure time and the complementarity of these inputs in leisure technology, we infer a significant increase in the average productivity of time spent on leisure. The increasing productivity of leisure time generates significant welfare gains for the average household and moderates negative welfare effects from the rising dispersion of expenditures and time allocation across households.
The excess procyclicality of fiscal policy is commonly viewed as a central malaise in emerging economies. We document that procyclicality is more pervasive in countries with higher sovereign risk and provide a model of optimal fiscal policy with nominal rigidities and endogenous sovereign default that can account for this empirical pattern. Financing a fiscal stimulus is costly for risky countries and can render countercyclical policies undesirable, even in the presence of large Keynesian stabilization gains. We also show that imposing austerity can backfire by exacerbating the exposure to default, but a well-designed "fiscal forward guidance" can help reduce the excess procyclicality.
What structure of income taxation maximizes the social benefits of redistribution while minimizing the social harm associated with distorting the allocation of labor input? Many authors have advocated scrapping the current tax system, which redistributes primarily via marginal tax rates that rise with income, and replacing it with a flat tax system, in which marginal tax rates are constant and redistribution is achieved via non-means-tested transfers. In this paper we compare alternative tax systems in an environment with distinct roles for public and private insurance. We evaluate alternative policies using a social welfare function designed to capture the taste for redistribution reflected in the current tax system. In our preferred specification, moving to the optimal flat tax policy reduces welfare, whereas moving to the optimal fully nonlinear Mirrlees policy generates only tiny welfare gains. These findings suggest that proposals for dramatic tax reform should be viewed with caution.
This paper proposes a theory of foreign reserves as macroprudential policy. We study an open economy model of financial crises, in which pecuniary externalities lead to over-borrowing, and show that by accumulating international reserves, the government can achieve the constrained-efficient allocation. The optimal reserve accumulation policy leans against the wind and significantly reduces the exposure to financial crises. The theory is consistent with the joint dynamics of private and official capital flows, both over time and in the cross section, and can quantitatively account for the recent upward trend in international reserves.
Following the sovereign debt crisis of 2012, some southern European countries have debated proposals to leave the Euro. We evaluate this policy change in a standard monetary model with seigniorage financing of the deficit. The main novel feature is that we depart from rational expectations while maintaining full rationality of agents in a sense made very precise. Our first contribution is to show that small departures from rational expectations imply that inflation upon exit can be orders of magnitude higher than under rational expectations. Our second contribution is to provide a framework for policy analysis in models without rational expectations.
We develop an asset pricing model with flexible heterogeneity in asset demand across investors, designed to match institutional and household holdings. A portfolio choice model implies characteristics-based demand when returns have a factor structure and expected returns and factor loadings depend on the assets' own characteristics. We propose an instrumental variables estimator for the characteristics-based demand system to address the endogeneity of demand and asset prices. Using U.S. stock market data, we illustrate how the model could be used to understand the role of institutions in asset market movements, volatility, and predictability.