NBER Publications by Alexander Wolitzky

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Working Papers and Chapters

April 2014Capital Taxation under Political Constraints
with Florian Scheuer: w20043
This paper studies optimal dynamic tax policy under the threat of political reform. A policy will be reformed ex post if a large enough political coalition supports reform; thus, credible policies are those that will continue to attract enough political support in the future. If the only credible reform threat is to fully equalize consumption, we find that optimal marginal capital taxes are U-shaped, so that savings are subsidized for the middle class but are taxed for the poor and rich. If ex post the government may strategically propose a reform other than full equalization in order to secure additional political support, then optimal capital taxes are instead progressive throughout the income distribution.
July 2012Cycles of Distrust: An Economic Model
with Daron Acemoglu: w18257
We propose a model of cycles of distrust and conflict. Overlapping generations of agents from two groups sequentially play coordination games under incomplete information about whether the other side consists of “extremists” who will never take the good/trusting action. Good actions may be mistakenly perceived as bad/distrusting actions. We also assume that there is limited information about the history of past actions, so that an agent is unable to ascertain exactly when and how a sequence of bad actions originated. Assuming that both sides are not extremists, spirals of distrust and conflict get started as a result of a misperception, and continue because the other side interprets the bad action as evidence that it is facing extremists. However, such spirals contain the seeds of their ow...
December 2009The Economics of Labor Coercion
with Daron Acemoglu: w15581
The majority of labor transactions throughout much of history and a significant fraction of such transactions in many developing countries today are "coercive", in the sense that force or the threat of force plays a central role in convincing workers to accept employment or its terms. We propose a tractable principal-agent model of coercion, based on the idea that coercive activities by employers, or "guns", affect the participation constraint of workers. We show that coercion and effort are complements, so that coercion increases effort. Nevertheless, coercion is always "inefficient", in the sense of reducing utilitarian social welfare. Better outside options for workers reduce coercion, because of the complementarity between coercion and effort: workers with better outside option exert l...

Published: Daron Acemoglu & Alexander Wolitzky, 2011. "The Economics of Labor Coercion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(2), pages 555-600, 03. citation courtesy of

August 2009A Search Cost Model of Obfuscation
with Glenn Ellison: w15237
This paper develops search-theoretic models in which it is individually rational for firms to engage in obfuscation. It considers oligopoly competition between firms selling a homogeneous good to a population of rational consumers who incur search costs to learn each firm's price. Search costs are endogenized: obfuscation is equated with unobservable actions that make it more time-consuming to inspect a product and learn its price. We note two mechanisms by which obfuscation can affect consumer beliefs about future search costs: a direct effect that applies when search costs are convex in time spent searching and a signal-jamming effect that applies when an informational link is present. As long as obfuscation is costless for firms, the presence of either of these mechanisms guarantees tha...

Published: Glenn Ellison & Alexander Wolitzky, 2012. "A search cost model of obfuscation," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 43(3), pages 417-441, 09. citation courtesy of

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