Social Security, Savings and Stagnation

Here is Evans, Kotlikoff, and Phillips making the case that transfers to the elderly, such as Social Security and Medicare, have dramatically lowered the US savings rate, the investment rate and real wage growth:

In the lifecycle model, the young, because they have longer remaining lifespans than the old, have much lower propensities to consume out of their remaining lifetime resources. This prediction is strongly confirmed for the US by Gokhale et al (1996).

Hence, in taking from young savers and giving to old spenders, which Uncle Sam has spent six decades doing on a massive scale, the lifecycle model predicts a major decline in US net national saving associated with a major rise in the absolute and relative consumption of the elderly. This is precisely what the data show.

In 1965, the US net national saving was 15.6% of net national income. Last year, it was just 0.9%. And, according to Gokhale et al (1996) and Lee and Mason (2012), the secular demise in US saving has coincided with a spectacular rise in the consumption of older Americans relative to that of younger Americans.

As Feldstein and Horioka (1980) document, US net domestic saving tracks US net national saving. Hence, postwar intergenerational redistribution has not only lowered net national saving; it has also reduced net domestic investment, from 14.0% of national income in 1965 to just 3.6% in 2011. This decline in the rate of net domestic investment is, no doubt, playing a major role in the slow growth in US wages. Indeed, the level of private-sector average real earnings per hour, exclusive of fringe benefits, is lower today than it was 40 years ago.

We call this America’s “fiscal child abuse”. If it continues, it will no doubt shortly drive the national saving rate, which was negative 1.2% in 2009, into permanent negative territory and further reduce net domestic investment and prospects for real wage growth.


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