NBER Working Papers by Henning Bohn

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Working Papers

September 2010Should Public Retirement Plans be Fully Funded?
Most state and local retirement plans strive for full funding, at least by actuarial standards. Funding measured at market values fluctuates and often falls short. A common argument for full funding is that pensions are a form of deferred compensation that does not justify a debt. The paper examines public finance, political economy, and financial market issues that bear on optimal funding, broadly and in a series of models. In a model where most taxpayers hold debt and face intermediation costs, returns on pension assets are less than taxpayers’ cost of borrowing. Pension funding is costly and hence zero funding is optimal. The model also implies that unfunded pension promises are properly discounted at a rate strictly greater than the government’s borrowing rate. If pension funds serv...


March 1999Social Security and Demographic Uncertainty: The Risk Sharing Properties of Alternative Policies
As the U.S. population ages, the growing retiree-worker ratio increases the burden of public retirement systems. Is it efficient to maintain a defined benefit social security system? Should PAYGO benefits be reduced and private retirement savings be encouraged? The paper examines these questions in a neoclassical growth model with overlapping generations and demographic uncertainty. In case of shocks to the birth rate, I find that a defined-benefits social security system is more efficient ex-ante than a defined-contribution or privatized system. This is because small cohorts generally enjoy favorable wage and interest rate movements. They are in the labor force when the capital- labor ratio is high and they earn capital income when the capital-labor ratio is low. A defined benefit sys...


April 1996Balanced Budget Rules and Public Deficits: Evidence from the U.S. States
with Robert P. Inman: w5533
Most states (Vermont is the exception) have a constitutional or statutory limitation restricting their ability to run deficits in the state's general fund. Balanced budget limitations may be either prospective or beginning-of-the-year requirements or retrospective or end-of-the-year requirements. Using budget data from a panel of 47 U.S. states for the period 1970-1991, the analysis finds that states with end-of-the-year (not prospective) balance requirements enforced as constitutional (not statutory) constraints by an independently elected (not politically appointed) state supreme court do have significant positive effects on a state's general fund surplus. The surplus is accumulated through cuts in spending, not through tax increases. It is saved in a state `rainy day' fund in antici...

Published: Bohn, Henning & Inman, Robert P., 1996. "Balanced-budget rules and public deficits: evidence from the U.S. states," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 13-76, December. citation courtesy of

June 1985Alternative Nonnested Specification Tests of Time Series Investment Models
with Ben S. Bernanke, Peter C. Reiss: t0049
This paper develops and compares nonnested hypothesis tests for linear regression models with first-order serially correlated errors. It extends the nonnested testing procedures of Pesaran, Fisher and McAleer, and Davidson and MacKinnon, and compares their performance on four conventional models of aggregate investment demand using quarterly U.S. investment data from 1951:1 to 1983:IV. The data and the nonnested hypothesis tests initially indicate that no model is correctly specified, and that the tests are occasionally intransitive in their assessments. Before rejecting these conventional models of investment demand, we go on to investigate the small sample properties of these different nonnested test procedures through a series of monte carlo studies. These investigations demonstrate tha...

Published: Bernanke, Bohn, and Reiss. "Alternative Nonnested Specification Tests of Time Series Investment Models," in Journal of Econometrics, Vol. 37, No. 2, March 1988, pp. 293-326.

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