NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

"Unfunded Liabilities" and Uncertain Fiscal Financing

Troy Davig, Eric M. Leeper, Todd B. Walker

NBER Working Paper No. 15782
Issued in February 2010
NBER Program(s):   EFG

We develop a rational expectations framework to study the consequences of alternative means to resolve the "unfunded liabilities'' problem---unsustainable exponential growth in federal Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending with no plan to finance it. Resolution requires specifying a probability distribution for how and when monetary and fiscal policies will change as the economy evolves through the 21st century. Beliefs based on that distribution determine the existence of and the nature of equilibrium. We consider policies that in expectation combine reaching a fiscal limit, some distorting taxation, modest inflation, and some reneging on the government's promised transfers. In the equilibrium, inflation-targeting monetary policy cannot successfully anchor expected inflation. Expectational effects are always present, but need not have large impacts on inflation and interest rates in the short and medium runs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15782

Published: Davig, Troy & Leeper, Eric M. & Walker, Todd B., 2010. ""Unfunded liabilities" and uncertain fiscal financing," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(5), pages 600-619, July. citation courtesy of

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