Chapter 22: TAXATION AND SAVINGS – THEORY AND EVIDENCE

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Chapter 22: TAXATION AND SAVINGS – THEORY AND EVIDENCE The traditional theory of savings is to smooth consumption across periods. This is an implication of diminishing marginal utility of income.

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## Chapter 22: TAXATION AND SAVINGS – THEORY AND EVIDENCE

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Chapter 22: TAXATION AND SAVINGS – THEORY AND EVIDENCE
• The traditional theory of savings is to smooth consumption across periods.
• This is an implication of diminishing marginal utility of income.
• Intertemporal choice is the choice individuals make about how to allocate their consumption over time.
• As with hours of work in the labor supply model, savings is not valued directly, but is rather a means to an end. It can be thought of as a “bad” – where the complementary “good” is “future consumption.”

Figure 1

The 2-period Intertemporal Consumption Model

C2

Y(1+r)

Initially savings is S, and consumption is C1.

slope = -(1+r)

Y(1+r(1-τ))

Taxing savings rotates the budget constraint, and creates income and substitution effects.

A

slope = -(1+r(1-τ))

C2

S(1+r)

BC1

BC2

C1

C1

Y

S

Figure 2

Responses to the Taxation of Saving

C2

C2

Substitution effect

is larger

Income effect

is larger

Savings can fall.

Or rise.

C2

C2

C2*

C2*

BC1

BC2

BC1

BC2

C1

C1*

C1*

C1

C1

C1

S

S

• The lower after-tax rate of return will cause an increase in first period consumption through the substitution effect.
• But the fall in the after-tax return makes Jack feel poorer, which reduces his consumption in the first period (and increases savings).
• The first panel shows that when the substitution effect dominates, savings falls.
• The second panel shows that when the income effect dominates, savings increases.
Taxation and savings – Theory and evidenceHow does the after-tax interest rate affect savings?
• Unlike the empirical literature on labor supply, the empirical work on after-tax interest rates and savings has not reached a clear consensus.
• The elasticity of savings with respect to interest rates varies from 0 to 0.67.
• It is more difficult to compute the appropriate interest rate.
• In addition, it is more difficult to find appropriate treatment and control groups.
ALTERNATIVE MODELS OF SAVINGSPrecautionary saving models
• The precautionary saving model is a model of savings that accounts for the fact that individual savings serve at least partly to smooth consumption over future uncertainties.
• One of the most commonly given reasons for saving is for “emergencies.”
• This is a form of self-insurance.
• The intuition for precautionary savings are barriers to borrowing during an emergency. Liquidity constraints are barriers that limit the ability of individuals to borrow.
Alternative models of savingsSelf-control models
• An alternative formulation of the savings decision comes from behavioral economics models.
• Individuals have a long-run preference to ensure enough savings for smooth consumption throughout their lives, but their impatient short-run preferences may cause them to consume all their income and not save for future periods.
• These self control problems require commitment devices.
• Self-control problems may explain why individuals have substantial savings in illiquid forms (housing, retirement accounts), while at the same time carrying credit card balances at high interest rates.
TAX INCENTIVES FOR RETIREMENT SAVINGS
• Because of concern about workers under-saving for retirement, the U.S. government has introduced a series of tax subsidies for retirement savings.
• There are four major incentives:
• Tax subsidy to employer-provided pensions
• DC and BD plans
• 401(k) accounts
• Individual Retirement Accounts
• Keogh Accounts
Tax incentives for retirement savingsWhy do tax subsidies raise the return to savings?
• All of the tax subsidies have the following characteristics:
• Individuals avoid paying income tax on their contributions.
• Earnings accumulate at the before-tax rate of return.
• Withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income, not the lower capital gains tax rate.
Tax incentives for retirement savingsWhy do tax subsidies raise the return to savings?
• Since taxes are paid at retirement, how are these accounts “tax subsidized?”
• The key ingredient is that you get to earn the interest on the money that would have otherwise been paid in taxes. This is composed of three important parts:
• The initial deductibility of the contributions
• Having earnings accumulate at the before-tax rate of return
• Having the potential to withdraw the money when a person is in a lower tax bracket.
• These tax subsidies can dramatically increase the rate of return to retirement savings.
Tax incentives for retirement savingsTheoretical effects of tax-subsidized retirement savings
• One key institutional feature of 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and so forth is that the annual contributions are capped.
• This creates a non-linearity in the budget constraint, where the tax-advantaged rate of return from saving below the cap is higher than taxed rate of return above the cap.
• Figure 4 illustrates this situation.

Figure 4

C2

D

slope = -(1+r(1-τ))

Y(1+r(1-τ))

A

E

With a cap, savings is subsidized, but only up to a point.

slope = -(1+r(1-τρ))

B

C1

Y

\$3,000

Low saver

Figure 5a

C2

Y(1+r(1-τ))

B

C

?

A

For a low saver, the income and substitution effects go in opposite directions.

Thus, the net effect is ambiguous for low savers.

C1

C1g

Y

1,000

High saver

Figure 5b

C2

B

Y(1+r(1-τ))

For high-savers, IRAs represent an income effect only and therefore lower savings.

A

C1

Y

C1W

C2W

\$4,000

\$5,000

• The discussion so far has focused on private savings, but what matters for investment and growth is national savings.
• Retirement tax incentives have an offsetting effect on national savings because they are financed by a tax break.
• For example, imagine that 401(k)s raised private savings by 30¢ per \$1 of contribution. If the tax rate were 43%, then 43¢ of tax revenue is forgone.
• Since tax revenue reflects public saving, 401(k)s actually reduce national savings, even though it increased private saving.