Transfer Payments and the Macroeconomy: The Effects of Social Security Benefit Changes, 1952-1991
From the early 1950s to the early 1990s, increases in Social Security benefits in the United States varied widely in size and timing, and were only rarely undertaken in response to short-run macroeconomic developments. This paper uses these benefit increases to investigate the macroeconomic effects of changes in transfer payments. It finds a large, immediate, and statistically significant response of consumption to permanent changes in transfers. The response appears to decline at longer horizons, however, and there is no clear evidence of effects on industrial production or employment. These effects differ sharply from the effects of relatively exogenous tax changes: the impact of transfers is faster, but much less persistent and dramatically smaller overall. Finally, we find strong statistical and narrative evidence of a sharply contractionary monetary policy response to permanent benefit increases that is not present for tax changes. This may account for the lower persistence of the consumption effects of transfers and their failure to spread to broader indicators of economic activity.
We are grateful to John Leahy, Ricardo Reis, and seminar participants at Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the National Bureau of Economic Research for helpful comments and suggestions, and to Dmitri Koustas and Paul Matsiras for research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- ...different responses of monetary policy to benefit increases and tax cuts probably explain their very different macroeconomic effects...
Romer, Christina D., and David H. Romer. 2016. "Transfer Payments and the Macroeconomy: The Effects of Social Security Benefit Increases, 1952-1991." American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 8 (4): 1-42. DOI: 10.1257/mac.20140348