Archive for the ‘Demographics/Pension’ Category

How and why have some societies come to control infectious diseases while others have let them fester?

April 9, 2020 sent this message to its subscribers:

The current crisis has brought into focus the tradeoffs between quarantines and economic freedom.  For an excellent book about the history of these tradeoffs in the United States, read Werner Troesken’s The Pox of Liberty:  How the Constitution Left Americans Rich, Free, and Prone to Infection.   Werner traces the history of how governments at all levels of the American federal system dealt with three deadly and recurring diseases:  smallpox, yellow fever, and typhoid.    All of the issues the world is facing today to avoid horrid deaths are discussed in Werner’s book:  inadequate testing, the absence of vaccines, attempts to develop vaccines, tradeoffs between economic losses and quarantines, the uncertainties that the disease might return in the future, and inadequate medical facilities. 

The situations developed in the 19th century societies when there were much higher death rates, lower incomes, and at best rudimentary medical care.  Werner shows how the clauses of the U.S. Constitution that expanded freedoms served to make it more difficult to prevent disease in the short run.  Yet, in the long run these same clauses provided expansive opportunities for a wide range of governments, people, and organizations to increase incomes and find ways to solve the disease problems.  It is a complex story that weaves together law, economics, politics, sociology, demography, and epidemiology into a superb tapestry by one of the leading economic historians of public health.  Sadly, Werner died in 2018, so we cannot talk to him directly, but his writing offers a valuable history lesson for how to think about the issues the world faces today. 


Here is the book. The first chapter of the book is available. has a book review:

Throughout the remainder of the book, Troesken answers this question by appealing to the American system itself. In a single word, the reason the America historically had such a high disease rate: liberty.

The fact the American political system values individual liberty and allows the public to elect officials that share their beliefs, combined with a strong history of individual and states’ rights allowed local preferences and, in some cases, the voices of a few to prevent compulsory vaccination and deter certain public health investments. While this book’s focus is on the eradication of smallpox and typhoid from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, its framework is useful in understanding contemporary public health debates and policy.  Recently, scientific evidence has debunked the potential link between autism and vaccination, yet there is still a strong anti-vaccine movement among parents of newborns. Likewise, the HPV vaccine is highly effective in reducing cervical cancer later in life, yet vaccination rates remain relatively low due to a resistance to discussing reproductive health with young daughters. Understanding that the American system empowers these voices should shed light on the persistence of disease in the United States.


After finishing the book, one is left with the following impression: The institutions, which provide individuals the incentives to trade and produce have also hindered higher levels of government from internalizing public health externalities. Thus, the United States has been able to amass significant wealth and income due to individual effort, yet has continued to battle certain diseases longer than other nations with a stronger central government. At the same time, the government’s desire to pay its debts has also facilitated large, long term investments to improve water infrastructure. This nuanced study has helped fill a gap in the existing literature by highlighting that the institutions and disease environment are part of an endogenous relationship between the two.

Does this explain current Covid19 crisis in US which has largest number of cases?



Shrinkonomics: Lessons from Japan

April 9, 2020

Gee Hee Hong and Todd Schneider of IMF in this article:

Demographic change is having a fundamental impact on the global economy—but not in the way we once thought it would.

A mere five decades ago, some observers were predicting that the human population was too big and would soon strip the world of resources, leading to mass starvation, collapse of the global economy, and a host of other ills. But the doomsday scenario of mass overpopulation did not materialize. Rather, for the first time in modern history, the world’s population is expected to virtually stop growing by the end of this century, owing in large part to falling global fertility rates.

Japan’s unique population, fertility, and immigration history make it a leading exemplar of this trend. The impact of an aging and shrinking population is already visible in everything from economic and financial performance to the shape of cities and public policy priorities (such as the long-term solvency of public pension, health care, and long-term care systems).

With demographics having such a clear and accelerating impact, Japan is the test kitchen for “shrinkonomics”—a laboratory from which other countries are beginning to draw lessons.

The IMF’s work on the Japanese economy has focused heavily on demographics in recent years—mirroring the intense debate within Japan on how best to respond to the pressures from a rapidly aging and shrinking population. While each country’s experience will be different—and prompt different solutions—some of the key macroeconomic and financial effects can be identified from Japan’s recent experience.

What makes Japan different?

On the one hand, Japan is in good company with respect to broad demographic trends. Looking across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data, there are many countries with declining populations, and likely more to come. Japan is also not alone—in the region or compared with other advanced economies—with respect to having a low fertility rate, which is common across most of the Group of Seven (G7). Japan also shares with other countries an improvement in health and average lifespan. This is a common trend across most advanced economies, though Japan is certainly doing better than average.

But this is not the whole story. Japan’s unique characteristics put demographic trends (and their macroeconomic and financial impact) in sharper relief than in other countries:

Japan’s postwar baby boom was short —only about three years, compared to other G7 members, where such periods stretched anywhere from nine to twenty years. This means that Japan’s demographic structure will shift dramatically in just a few years—particularly as the boomers hit retirement age and become eligible for public pension and health care benefits.

Japan leads the world in terms of life expectancy —surpassing all Group of Twenty economies as early as 1978. Extended life expectancy, combined with low fertility, accentuates demographic change in Japan and is manifested in a steady increase in the old-age dependency ratio (the number of retired people relative to the working-age population).

Immigration flows are too small to make an impact —on aging and shrinking demographics. In comparison with other G7 economies, Japan is an outlier in terms of its very limited use of imported labor. Foreign workers accounted for only about 2.2 percent of Japan’s total labor force in 2018, compared with an estimated 17.4 percent in the United States and 17 percent in the United Kingdom.

Covid19 is making things even worse for Japan…

Federal Reserve Structure, Economic Ideas, and Monetary and Financial Policy

July 31, 2019

Superb new paper by Michael Bordo and Edward Prescott. They document how Regional Feds have contributed to ideas in US mon policy:

The decentralized structure of the Federal Reserve System is evaluated as a mechanism for generating and processing new ideas on monetary and financial policy. The role of the Reserve Banks starting in the 1960s is emphasized. The introduction of monetarism in the 1960s, rational expectations in the 1970s, credibility in the 1980s, transparency, and other monetary policy ideas by Reserve Banks into the Federal Reserve System is documented.

Contributions by Reserve Banks to policy on bank structure, bank regulation, and lender of last resort are also discussed. We argue that the Reserve Banks were willing to support and develop new ideas due to internal reforms to the FOMC that Chairman William McChesney Martin implemented in the 1950s.

Furthermore, the Reserve Banks were able to succeed at this because of their private-public governance structure, a structure set up in 1913 for a highly decentralized Federal Reserve System, but which survived the centralization of the System in the Banking Act of 1935. We argue that this role of the Reserve Banks is an important benefit of the Federal Reserve’s decentralized structure and contributes to better policy by allowing for more competition in ideas and reducing groupthink.

I actually think you see far better research in regional Feds than Washington Fed…

Joblessness: The great Global crisis of the twenty-first century

June 28, 2017

Edward Galesar of Harvard University writes a long essay covering history, society, politics and economics. The kind of essay which was basically how economists wrote and tried communicating with the public. This art is mostly lost now as much of economic thinking has become garbled amidst equations and race for publishing.

He takes you through a tour on how the jobless problem in America started. He focuses on America joblessness is a global problem:


Why are some immigrant groups more successful than others?

June 27, 2017

Prof Edward Glaesar’s new paper says the differences are largely due to number of immigrants and population of home country:


Chameleons: The misuse of theoretical models in finance and economics

September 23, 2016

Well Paul Romer’s paper scathing state of macro has been much talked about. Romer even defended the paper.

However, there are others as well who have been questioning state of economics who are not as well known. Here is a 2014 paper by Paul Pfleiderer of Stanford (what is it with Profs named Paul!?) who says we have a new problem. There are certain models which are full of assumptions yet are played at a policy/real world level. These models obviously don’s meet the filter of real world once assumptions are done away with. Still they remain the main ideas.

He calls such models as chameleons:


Chile’s Pension System: Once eulogised and a case for emulation is now under a crisis…

September 8, 2016

These stories are so common in economics. The moment you think certain economic policy or system or economy has become the gold standard, it just goes the other way. This is both beauty and frustrating part of the subject.

This is the case with Chilean pension system as well. It was once eulogised but is under a crisis. It moved to a defined contribution plan much earlier than other economies which continue to be burdened by defined benefit plans.

But it is these very DC plans which are biting now. Reasons are not political but labor markets, as Prof. Andrés Velasco suggests:

Defined-benefit pension plans are under pressure. Changing demographics spell trouble for so-called pay-as-you-go (PAYG) systems, in which contributions from current workers finance pensions. And record-low interest rates are putting pressure on funded systems, in which the return from earlier investments pays for retirement benefits. TheFinancial Times recently called this pensions crunch a “creeping social and political crisis.”

Defined-contribution, fully-funded systems are often lauded as the feasible alternative. Chile, which since 1981 has required citizens to save for retirement in individual accounts, managed by private administrators, is supposed to be the poster child in this regard. Yet hundreds of thousands of Chileans have taken to the streets to protest against low pensions. (The average monthly benefit paid by Chile’s private system is around $300, less than Chile’s minimum wage.)

Chile’s government, feeling the heat, has vowed to change the system that countries like Peru, Colombia, and Mexico have imitated, and that George W. Bush once described as a “great example” for Social Security reform in the United States. What is going on?

The blame lies partially with the labor market. Chile’s is more formal than that of its neighbors, but many people – especially women and the young – either have no job or work without a contract. High job rotation makes it difficult to contribute regularly. And it has proven difficult to enforce regulations requiring self-employed workers to put money aside in their own accounts.

Moreover, the legally mandated savings rate is only 10% of the monthly wage, and men and women can retire at 65 and 60, respectively – figures that are much lower than the OECD average. The result is that Chileans save too little for retirement. No wonder pensions are low.

But that is not the end of the story. Some of the same problems plaguing defined-benefit systems are also troubling defined-contribution, private-account systems like Chile’s. Take changes in life expectancy. A woman retiring at age 60 today can expect to reach 90. So a fund accumulated over 15 years of contributions (the average for Chilean women) must finance pensions for an expected 30 years. That combination could yield decent pensions only if the returns on savings were astronomical.

They are not. On the contrary, since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, interest rates have been collapsing worldwide. Chile is no exception. This affects all funded pension systems, regardless of whether they are defined-benefit or defined-contribution schemes.

We just keep going in circles.

The crucial lesson is both policy pushers and public should take policies with a pinch of salt. The unintended or hidden consequences eventually take-over and the initial successes become cases for future problems..

How quickly did 30 million migrants to the US assimilate culturally?

July 7, 2016

Immigrants are the easiest targets in any political campaign. Most leaders use this to come to limelight.

But what about immigrants themselves? Do they assimilate in the different culture or maintain their own identity? If they maintain their own, then obviously they invite even more attacks.

Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan try and understand this question of cultural assimilation. They look at mass migration of 30 million Europeans to US during 1850-1913.


Russia’s demographic puzzle – falling birth rates and rising death rates…

March 8, 2016

A note by Guillaume Vandenbroucke on Russia;’s demographic profile. 

Russia is one of those countries whose death rates has been rising for quite some time now:


‘Children of the Wall’: Outcomes for kids born in a crisis

November 11, 2014

Timely piece by Arnaud Chevalier and Olivier Marie. Anything on Berlin Wall is likely to be read at this hour.

In this article, authirs show how children born during the fall are facing several issues:

Children born in crises face different initial conditions. Data on children born in East Germany just after the Berlin Wall came down confirms that this corresponds to worse adult outcomes. ‘Children of the Wall’ have 40% higher arrest rates, are 33% more likely to have repeated a grade by age 12, and are 9% more likely to have been put into a lower educational track. This column argues that these negative outcomes can be explained by the lower average parenting skills of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.

The authors get hold of a survey to tease these relationships:

To explore if these negative outcomes are driven by negative parental characteristics, we make use of very detailed survey data from the German Socio Economic Panel (SOEP) and the Deutsches JungedInstitut survey (DJI). Women who gave birth in East Germany just after the end of the communist regime were on average younger, less educated, less likely to be in a relationship, and less economically active.

Importantly, they also provided less educational input to their children even if they were not poorer. The Children of the Wall also rated their relationships with their mothers and the quality of parental support they received by age 17 much less favourably than their peers. Both these children and their mothers were also far more risky individuals compared with individuals who did not give birth (or were not born) in East Germany between August 1990 and December 1993.

While these results are in line with negative parental selection, they could also be driven by timing-of-birth effects. Due to the economic turmoil prevalent at the time, these children may have experienced higher levels of maternal stress in utero and during early childhood, which may have shaped their future behaviour.

To assess this hypothesis, we examine the same set of outcomes for the older siblings of the Children of the Wall who were born in the non-uncertain times of East German communism. They also similarly report having a poor relationship with their mothers, lower educational attainment, and are more risk-taking individuals. We thus reject the possibility that the Children of the Wall have worse outcomes due to being born in ‘bad times’ and instead conclude that the negative outcomes observed for this cohort can be explained by the lower average parenting skills of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.

A possible reason for this negative parental selection is that the fertility decision of these women did not react as strongly to changes in the economic environment. Indeed, further analysis of the SOEP reveals that less educated mothers were far less likely than more educated ones to reduce their fertility when they perceived a bad economic environment.

🙂 Importance of parenting..

On a demographic consequence of the First World War

August 24, 2012

Super column by Guillaume Vandenbroucke. It is connected to the work on linking institutions with supply of labor by Elena Nikolova . In that work, Nikolova  showed inclusive instis are more likely to emerge when we have shortage of labour. One of the example was world wars where economies like US allowed voting for women to incentivise women as supply of men has decreased post World Wars.

This column by Vandenbroucke goes a step back and shows how labor force has declined post WWI. This was because of decline in fertility. The fertility in turn declines because of expectations over loss in income and productivity. He actually makes a model factoring these expectations and shows it resembles the actual trend fairly closely.


Demographic Changes and Macroeconomic Performance: Japanese Experiences

June 1, 2012

Bank of Japan officials have been strongly emphasizing on the role of demographics in Japanese economy and recovery from the crisis. As per them, ageing Japanese population played a string role in slow recovery from the 1990s crisis. And many developed econs are in a similar Japanese position — Ageing population and deep financial crisis. hence, their recovery paths could also be slow and tardy like Japs.

This blog has continuously covered papers/speeches on demographic issues. I also wrote a paper on the topic.

BoJ goes a step further and has organised a conference on the topic. Its annual IMES conference is based on the demographic theme and its impact on macroeconomics. The papers are not still online so one has to wait.

The inaugural speech by BoJ Governor, Shirakawa is on the website. As always very interesting and more detailed than previous speeches on the topic.


Divorce rates help explain why Americans work more than Europeans..

May 21, 2012

A very longish paper by the trio explained in voxeu.

Why Americans work more than Europeans? This Europe vs US issue has always been a hot topic.

The authors say apart from higher tax rates in Europe, it is higher divorce rates in US which explain part of the problem:


How to ensure Demographic Dividend does not become a Demographic Bomb?

January 9, 2012

WB’s chief economist Justin Lin writes a post on the topic.

He says the population bomb is ticking in some countries esp Africa. It is upto them what they want to do with it. Do they want to cash on the dividend or let it become a bomb?


Civil Service and Military Pensions in India

October 31, 2011

This blog is really interested in research work on pensions as it connects so many areas of economics – microeconomics, behavioral economics, macro, financial economics etc.

In this superb paper Ajay Shah and Renuka Sane, review the pensions in India’s civil and military sectors. The paper tells you the pension system in each of these two areas and how the system is being moved to New Pension System. The transition has been easier in civil services compared to military services.


Why savings rate increased in China despite falling real rates?

September 29, 2011

Malhar Nabar of IMF looks at this interesting puzzle on Chinese household behavior.

Real interest rates have declined in China during 1996-09 but household savings (HH) as a % of GDP has risen from 19% in 1996 to 30% on 2009. This is a puzzle as one would assume as rates decline savings decline and consumption rises. This is the reason for rate cuts during the 2007 crisis (and previous crisis). In China you get a different behavior of savings rate actually rising.



Do women political leaders help women?

May 13, 2011

This is a timely paper given today’s election results. We have seen two women emerge as leaders in the state elections results – Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. Both have clean sweeped. It is not new for Jayalalitha as she has been the CM before but completely a change for West Bengal which has lived in communist rule for 34 years.

So what would one expect from a women leader? One of the first thing would be improvement in women security. As a woman it is a shame to live freely in this country. You have fear lurking in most corners of the country. As a woman you would ideally want to improve things somewhat for woman. Reduce crime rates against women, punish the culprits severely, make the police more sensitive and severe in case of women related crimes etc.

This paper by Lakshmi Iyer, Anandi Mani (University of Warwick), and Prachi Mishra and Petia Topalova (IMF) looks at these issues at a village level which has a female council head. Here is a nice discussion of the paper.


Transition from High Growth to Stable Growth: Japan’s Experience

May 12, 2011

A nice speech from Masaaki Shirakawa, Governor of the Bank of Japan. The speech is given on account of Central bank of Finland’s 200th anniversary. So there are some nice anecdotes linking Japanese economy with Finnish:

I felt it would be best to compare the experience of the Japanese economy from its high-growth period onward, with that of the emerging economies which are currently growing at a very rapid pace. Although it is not well-known, Japan’s automobile  industry  first ventured into the European markets through Finland back in 1962. At that time,Japanese automakers had little name recognition, and one firm, in order to prove the safety of its car to Finnish consumers, had the car driven off a ski-jumping hill. I have been informed that the car landed safely and the driver was not harmed. The 1960s, when such episodes of Japanese firms were born, was the heyday of the Japanese economic miracle.


He then discusses the Japan’s high growth phase:


How immigration works for US?

March 14, 2011

Dallas Fed annual report has a nice chapter on this topic.

It says immigrants form almost 17% of the Us workforce. Foucs is on low skill immigrants but high skill ones have risen sharply bas well. They help fill critical jobs in science and IT sectors leading to overall gains for the economy.

It has some interesting stats. It comapres US workforce and immigrants since 1910:


Demographics: a game changer in global economic growth prospects

March 1, 2011

This is the title of my new paper. Comments/suggestions are welcome.

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