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Author:Phelan, Tom 

Working Paper
Optimal Epidemic Control in Equilibrium with Imperfect Testing and Enforcement

We analyze equilibrium behavior and optimal policy within a Susceptible-Infected-Recovered epidemic model augmented with potentially undiagnosed agents who infer their health status and a social planner with imperfect enforcement of social distancing. We define and prove the existence of a perfect Bayesian Markov competitive equilibrium and contrast it with the efficient allocation subject to the same informational constraints. We identify two externalities, static (individual actions affect current risk of infection) and dynamic (individual actions affect future disease prevalence), and ...
Working Papers , Paper 2021-15

Working Paper
On the Optimality of Differential Asset Taxation

How should a utilitarian government balance redistributive concerns with the need to provide incentives for business creation and investment? Should they tax business profits, the (risk-free) savings of owners, or some combination of both? To address this question, this paper presents a model in which the desirability of differential asset taxation emerges endogenously from the presence of agency frictions. I consider an environment in which entrepreneurs hire workers and rent capital to produce output subject to privately observed shocks and have the ability to both divert capital to private ...
Working Papers , Paper 201917

Working Paper
The Optimal Taxation of Business Owners

Business owners in the United States are disproportionately represented among the wealthy and are exposed to substantial idiosyncratic risk. Further, recent evidence indicates that business income primarily reflects returns to the human capital of the owner. Motivated by these facts, this paper characterizes stationary efficient allocations and optimal linear taxes on income and wealth when business income depends on innate ability, luck, and the past effort of the owner. I first show that in stationary efficient allocations, more productive entrepreneurs typically bear more risk and the ...
Working Papers , Paper 201926r

Journal Article
Modeling Behavioral Responses to COVID-19

Many models have been developed to forecast the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We present one that is enhanced to allow individuals to alter their behavior in response to the virus. We show how adding this feature to the model both changes the resulting forecast and informs our understanding of the appropriate policy response. We find that when left to their own devices, individuals do curb their social activity in the face of risk, but not as much as a government planner would. The planner fully internalizes the effect of all individuals’ actions on others in society, while individuals do ...
Economic Commentary , Volume 2021 , Issue 05 , Pages 6

Working Paper
Applications of Markov Chain Approximation Methods to Optimal Control Problems in Economics

In this paper we explore some of the benefits of using the finite-state Markov chain approximation (MCA) method of Kushner and Dupuis (2001) to solve continuous-time optimal control problems. We first show that the implicit finite-difference scheme of Achdou et al. (2017) amounts to a limiting form of the MCA method for a certain choice of approximating chains and policy function iteration for the resulting system of equations. We then illustrate the benefits of departing from policy function iteration by showing that using variations of modified policy function iteration to solve income ...
Working Papers , Paper 202104

Journal Article
Two Approaches to Predicting the Path of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Is One Better?

We compare two types of models used to predict the spread of the coronavirus, both of which have been used by government officials and agencies. We describe the nature of the difference between the two approaches and their advantages and limitations. We compare examples of each type of model—the University of Washington IHME or “Murray” model, which follows a curve-fitting approach, and the Ohio State University model, which follows a structural approach.
Economic Commentary , Volume 2021 , Issue 10 , Pages 8

Journal Article
Improving Epidemic Modeling with Networks

Many of the models used to track, forecast, and inform the response to epidemics such as COVID-19 assume that everyone has an equal chance of encountering those who are infected with a disease. But this assumption does not reflect the fact that individuals interact mostly within much narrower groups. We argue that incorporating a network perspective, which accounts for patterns of real-world interactions, into epidemiological models provides useful insights into the spread of infectious diseases.
Economic Commentary , Volume 2020 , Issue 23 , Pages 8

Working Paper
The Optimal Taxation of Business Owners

Business owners in the United States are disproportionately represented among the very wealthy and are exposed to substantial idiosyncratic risk. Further, recent evidence indicates business income primarily reflects returns to the human (rather than financial) capital of the owner. Motivated by these facts, this paper characterizes the optimal taxation of income and wealth in an environment where business income depends jointly on innate ability, luck, and the accumulated past effort exerted by the owner. I show that in (constrained) efficient allocations, more productive entrepreneurs ...
Working Papers , Paper 201926

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