Fiscal Austerity in Ambiguous Times
This paper analyzes optimal fiscal policy with ambiguity aversion and endogenous government spending. We show that, without ambiguity, optimal surplus-to-output ratios are acyclical and that there is no rationale for either reduction or further accumulation of public debt. In contrast, ambiguity about the cycle can generate optimally policies that resemble "austerity" measures. Optimal policy prescribes higher taxes in adverse times and front-loaded fiscal consolidations that lead to a balanced primary budget in the long-run. This is the case when interest rates are sufficiently responsive to cyclical shocks?that is, when the intertemporal elasticity of substitution is sufficiently low.
AUTHORS: Ferrière, Axelle; Karantounias, Anastasios G.
Optimal Fiscal Policy with Recursive Preferences
I study the implications of recursive utility, a popular preference specification in macrofinance, for the design of optimal fiscal policy. Standard Ramsey tax-smoothing prescriptions are substantially altered. The planner overinsures by taxing less in bad times and more in good times, mitigating the effects of shocks. At the intertemporal margin, there is a novel incentive for introducing distortions that can lead to an ex-ante capital subsidy. Overall, optimal policy calls for a much stronger use of debt returns as a fiscal absorber, leading to the conclusion that actual fiscal policy is even worse than we thought.
AUTHORS: Karantounias, Anastasios G.
Risk Aversion at the Country Level
In this paper we provide estimates of the coefficient of relative risk aversion for 80 countries using data on self-reports of personal well-being from the Gallup World Poll. For most countries we cannot reject the null hypothesis that the coefficient of relative risk aversion equals 1. We conclude that our result supports the use of the log utility function in numerical simulations.
AUTHORS: Gandelman, Nestor; Hernandez-Murillo, Ruben
Insurance and Inequality with Persistent Private Information
We study optimal insurance contracts for an agent with Markovian private information. Our main results characterize the implications of constrained efficiency for long-run welfare and inequality. Under minimal technical conditions, there is Absolute Immiseration: in the long run, the agent?s consumption and utility converge to their lower bounds. When types are persistent and utility is unbounded below, there is Relative Immiseration: low-type agents are immiserated at a faster rate than high-type agents, and ?pathwise welfare inequality? grows without bound. These results extend and substantially generalize the hallmark findings from the classic literature with iid types, suggesting that the underlying forces are robust to a broad class of private information processes. The proofs rely on novel recursive techniques and martingale arguments. When the agent has CARA utility, we also analytically and numerically characterize the short-run properties of the optimal contract. Persistence gives rise to qualitatively novel short-run dynamics and allocative distortions (or ?wedges?) and, quantitatively, induces less efficient risk-sharing. We compare properties of the wedges to their counterparts in the dynamic taxation literature.
AUTHORS: Bloedel, Alex; Krishna, R. Vijay; Leukhina, Oksana
Learning About Consumer Uncertainty from Qualitative Surveys: As Uncertain As Ever
We study diffusion indices constructed from qualitative surveys to provide real-time assessments of various aspects of economic activity. In particular, we highlight the role of diffusion indices as estimates of change in a quasi extensive margin, and characterize their distribution, focusing on the uncertainty implied by both sampling and the polarization of participants' responses. Because qualitative tendency surveys generally cover multiple questions around a topic, a key aspect of this uncertainty concerns the coincidence of responses, or the degree to which polarization comoves, across individual questions. We illustrate these results using micro data on individual responses underlying different composite indices published by the Michigan Survey of Consumers. We find a secular rise in consumer uncertainty starting around 2000, following a decade-long decline, and higher agreement among respondents in prior periods. Six years after the Great Recession, uncertainty arising from the polarization of responses in the Michigan Survey stands today at its highest level since 1978, coinciding with the weakest recovery in U.S. post-war history. The formulas we derive allow for simple computations of approximate confidence intervals, thus affording a more complete real-time assessment of economic conditions using qualitative surveys.
AUTHORS: Sharp, Robert; Pinto, Santiago; Sarte, Pierre-Daniel G.
The Complexity of CEO Compensation
I study firm characteristics that justify the use of options or refresher grants in the optimal compensation packages for CEOs in the presence of moral hazard. I model explicitly the determination of stock prices as a function of the output realizations of the firm: Symmetric learning by all parties about the exogenous quality of the firm makes stock prices sensitive to output observations. Compensation packages are designed to transform this sensitivity of prices-to-output into the sensitivity of consumption-to-output that is dictated by the optimal contract. Heterogeneity in the structure of firm uncertainty implies that some firms are able to implement the optimal contract with very simple schemes that do not include options, refresher grants, or perks, while others need to use these more complex and potentially less transparent instruments.
AUTHORS: Jarque, Arantxa
Household Credit and Local Economic Uncertainty
This paper investigates the impact of uncertainty on consumer credit outcomes. We develop a local measure of economic uncertainty capturing county-level labor market shocks. We then exploit microeconomic data on mortgages and credit-card balances together with the crosssectional variation provided by our uncertainty measure to show strong borrower-specific heterogeneity in response to changes in uncertainty. Among high risk borrowers or areas with more high risk borrowers, increased uncertainty is associated with housing market illiquidity and a reduction in leverage. For low risk borrowers, these effects are absent and the cost of mortgage credit declines, suggesting that lenders reallocate credit towards safer borrowers when uncertainty spikes. A similar pattern is observed in the unsecured credit market. Taken together, local uncertainty might independently affect aggregate economic activity through consumer credit markets and could engender greater inequality in consumption and housing wealth accumulation across households.
AUTHORS: Yu, Edison; DiMaggio, Marco; Ramcharan, Rodney; Kermani, Amir
An overview of the Survey of Consumer Expectations
This report presents an overview of the Survey of Consumer Expectations, a new monthly online survey of a rotating panel of household heads. The survey collects timely information on consumers? expectations and decisions on a broad variety of topics, including but not limited to inflation, household finance, the labor market, and the housing market. There are three main goals of the survey: (1) measuring consumer expectations at a high frequency, (2) understanding how these expectations are formed, and (3) investigating the link between expectations and behavior. This report discusses the origins of the survey, the questionnaire design, the implementation of the survey and the sample, and computation of various statistics that are released every month. We conclude with a discussion of how the results are disseminated, and how the (micro) data may be accessed.
AUTHORS: Zafar, Basit; Topa, Giorgio; Van der Klaauw, Wilbert; Armantier, Olivier
Personal experiences and expectations about aggregate outcomes
We use novel survey data to estimate how personal experiences affect household expectations about aggregate economic outcomes in housing and labor markets. We exploit variation in locally experienced house prices to show that individuals systematically extrapolate from recent locally experienced home prices when asked for their expectations about U.S. house price changes over the next year. In addition, higher volatility of locally experienced house prices causes respondents to report a wider distribution over expected future national house price movements. We find similar results for labor market expectations, where we exploit within-individual variation in labor market status to estimate the effect of own experience on national labor market expectations. Personally experiencing unemployment leads respondents to be significantly more pessimistic about future nationwide unemployment. The extent of extrapolation is unrelated to proxies for how informative personal experiences are, and is more pronounced for less sophisticated individuals.
AUTHORS: Kuchler, Theresa; Zafar, Basit
An overview of the Survey of Consumer Expectations
The authors present an overview of the New York Fed?s Survey of Consumer Expectations, a monthly online survey of a rotating panel of household heads. The survey collects timely information on respondents? expectations and decisions on a broad variety of topics, including inflation, household finance, the labor market, and the housing market. It has three main goals: (1) measuring consumer expectations at a high frequency, (2) understanding how these expectations are formed, and (3) investigating the link between expectations and behavior. The authors discuss the origins of the survey, the questionnaire design, the implementation of the survey and the sample, and the computation of the various statistics released every month. They conclude with a discussion of how the results are disseminated and how the (micro) data may be accessed on the New York?s Fed?s Center for Microeconomic Data.
AUTHORS: Zafar, Basit; Van der Klaauw, Wilbert; Armantier, Olivier; Topa, Giorgio