5. Excess Sensitivity of High-Income Consumers, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 133 (2018): 1693-1751. First version, entitled Explaining Consumption Excess Sensitivity with Near-Rationality: Evidence from Large Predetermined Payments: July 2015. [Abstract], [Slides], [Online Appendix], [Public Version], [Code and Data], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: Using new transaction data, I find considerable deviations from consumption smoothing in response to large, regular, predetermined, and salient payments from the Alaska Permanent Fund. On average, the marginal propensity to consume (MPC) is 25% for nondurables and services within one quarter of the payments. The MPC is heterogeneous, monotonically increasing with income, and the average is largely driven by high-income households with substantial amounts of liquid assets, who have MPCs above 50%. The account-level data and the properties of the payments rule out most previous explanations of excess sensitivity, including buffer stock models and rational inattention. How big are these "mistakes"? Using a sufficient statistics approach, I show that the welfare loss from excess sensitivity depends on the MPC and the relative payment size as a fraction of income. Since the lump-sum payments do not depend on income, the two statistics are negatively correlated such that the welfare losses are similar across households and small (less than 0.1% of wealth), despite the large MPCs.
Companion paper to : 5b. Revisiting the Response of Household Spending to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend using CE Data, July 2015. [Abstract], [Code and Data].
ABSTRACT: This paper revisits the important contribution of Hsieh (2003) to the analysis of the intertemporal allocation of household consumption. Using total expenditures to normalize income from the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend instead of family income and an extended sample of the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE), I show that log household spending on nondurables is excessively sensitive to the arrival of this predetermined cash flow, with a statistically significant elasticity between 11% and 16%. The previously estimated non-response can largely be attributed to attenuation bias introduced by substantial measurement error in self-reported before-tax family income, in particular over-reporting of very small values.
4. Do Household Finances Constrain Unconventional Fiscal Policy? (with Scott Baker, Leslie McGranahan, and Brian Melzer), Tax Policy and the Economy, Vol. 33, no. 1 (2019): 1-44. First version: July 2018. [Abstract], [Slides], [Public Version], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: When the zero lower bound on nominal interest rate binds, monetary policy may lack traditional tools to stimulate aggregate demand. We investigate whether "unconventional" fiscal policy, in the form of pre-announced consumption tax changes, has the potential to meaningfully shift durables purchases intertemporally and how it is affected by consumer credit. In particular, we test whether car sales react in anticipation of future sales tax changes, leveraging 57 pre-announced changes in state sales tax rates from 1999-2017. We find evidence for substantial tax elasticities, with car sales rising by over 8% in the month before a 1% increase in the sales tax rate. Responses are heterogeneous across households and sensitive to supply of credit. Consumers with high credit risk scores are most able to pull purchases forward. At the same time, other effects such as customer composition and attention lead to an even larger tax elasticity during recessions, despite these credit frictions. We discuss policy implications and the likely magnitudes of tax changes necessary for any substantive long-term responses.
3. Complementarity of Performance Pay and Task Allocation (with Bryan Hong and Mu-Jeung Yang), forthcoming in Management Science. First version: January 2015. [Abstract], [Online Appendix], [Public Version].
ABSTRACT: Complementarity between performance pay and other organizational design elements has been argued to be one potential explanation for stark differences in the observed productivity gains from performance pay adoption. Using detailed data on internal organization for a nationally representative sample of firms, we empirically test for the existence of complementarity between performance pay incentives and decentralization of decision-making authority for tasks. To address endogeneity concerns, we exploit regional variation in income tax progressivity as an instrument for the adoption of performance pay. We find systematic evidence of complementarity between performance pay and decentralization of decision-making from principals to employees. However, adopting performance pay also leads to centralization of decision-making authority from non-managerial to managerial employees. The findings suggest that performance pay adoption leads to a concentration of decision-making control at the managerial employee level, as opposed to a general movement towards more decentralization throughout the organization.
2. Propagation and Risk Spreading in Alternative Social Security Systems (with Alan Auerbach, Ronald Lee, and Yury Yatsynovich), Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 164 (2018): 91-105. First version: April 2011. [Abstract], [Public Version], [Non-Technical Version], [Code], [Old Fortran77 Code].
ABSTRACT: Even with well-developed capital markets, there is no private market mechanism for trading between current and future generations. This generates a potential role for public old-age pension systems to spread economic and demographic shocks among different generations. This paper evaluates how different systems smooth and propagate shocks to productivity, fertility, mortality and migration in a realistic OLG model. We use reductions in the variance of wealth equivalents to measure performance, starting with the existing U.S. system as a unifying framework, in which we vary how much taxes and benefits adjust, and which we then compare to the existing German and Swedish systems. We find that system design and shock type are key factors. The German system and the benefit-adjustment-only U.S. system best smooth productivity shocks, which are by far the most important shocks. Overall, the German system performs best, while the Swedish system, which includes a buffer stock to relax annual budget constraints, performs rather poorly. Focusing on the U.S. system, reliance solely on tax adjustment fares best for mortality and migration shocks, while equal reliance on tax and benefit adjustments is best for fertility shocks.
1. Innocent Bystanders? Monetary Policy and Inequality (with Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko and John Silvia), Journal of Monetary Economics, Vol. 88 (2017): 70-89. First version: May 2012. [Abstract], [Public Version], [Code and Data], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: We study the effects of monetary policy shocks on - and their historical contribution to - consumption and income inequality in the United States since 1980 as measured by the Consumer Expenditure Survey. Contractionary monetary policy systematically increases inequality in labor earnings, total income, consumption and total expenditures. Furthermore, monetary policy shocks account for a non-trivial component of the historical cyclical variation in income and consumption inequality. Using detailed micro-level data on income and consumption, we document some of the different channels via which monetary policy shocks affect inequality, as well as how these channels depend on the nature of the change in monetary policy.
7. Measurement Error in Imputed Consumption (with Scott Baker, Steffen Meyer, and Michaela Pagel), September 2018, revise and resubmit at the Review of Financial Studies. [Abstract], [Slides].
ABSTRACT: Because of limitations in survey-based measures of household consumption, a growing literature uses an alternative measure of consumer expenditures commonly referred to as "imputed consumption." This approach typically utilizes annual snapshots of household income and wealth from administrative tax registries to calculate household spending as the residual of the household budget constraint. In this paper we use transaction-level retail investment data to assess the measurement error that can result in imputed consumption due to intra-year changes in asset values and composition. We show that substantial discrepancies between imputed and actual spending can arise due to trading costs, asset distributions, variable trade timing, and volatile asset prices between two annual snapshots. While these errors tend to be quantitatively small and centered around zero on average, we demonstrate that they vary across individuals of different types and income levels and are highly correlated with the business cycle. We end by suggesting ways to minimize the impact of these imputation errors in future research and we discuss which research questions are least likely to suffer from such errors.
6. Income Fluctuations and Firm Choice (with Brian Baugh and Scott Baker), March 2018, revise and resubmit at the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis. [Abstract], [Slides].
ABSTRACT: How households shift spending across firms in response to income fluctuations is an important source of risk to individual firms. Using transaction-level data, we study how households interact with the universe of retailers following changes in income. We find that increases in income, both within and across households, result in substitution towards retailers that are higher quality, smaller, more profitable, have higher labor intensity, have higher R&D intensity, and have higher betas. Since these shifts do not average out across retailers, retailer choice has important implications for key financial and macroeconomic outcomes such as profitability and labor demand.
5. Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates (with Scott Baker and Stephanie Johnson), September 2018, revise and resubmit at the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. [Abstract], [Slides], [Online Appendix], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: Using comprehensive high-frequency state and local sales tax data, we show that shopping behavior responds strongly to changes in sales tax rates. Even though sales taxes are not observed in posted prices and have a wide range of rates and exemptions, consumers adjust in many dimensions. They stock up on storable goods before taxes rise and increase online and cross-border shopping in both the short and long run. The difference between short- and long-run spending responses has important implications for the efficacy of using sales taxes for counter-cyclical policy and for the design of an optimal tax framework. Interestingly, households adjust spending similarly for both taxable and tax-exempt goods. We embed an inventory problem into a continuous-time consumption-savings model and demonstrate that this seemingly irrational behavior is optimal in the presence of shopping trip fixed costs. The model successfully matches estimated short-run and long-run tax elasticities with an implied after-tax hourly reservation wage of $9-13. We provide additional evidence in favor of this new shopping-complementarity mechanism.
4. The Long-Run Effects of a Public Policy on Alcohol Tastes and Mortality (with Evgeny Yakovlev), May 2019, 2nd round revise and resubmit at the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. [Abstract], [Slides], [Online Appendix], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: We study the long-run effects of Russia's anti-alcohol campaign, which dramatically altered the relative supply of hard and light alcohol in the late 1980s. We find that this policy shifted young men's long-run preferences from hard to light alcohol decades later and we estimate the age at which consumers form their tastes. We show that the large beer market expansion in the late 1990s had similar effects on young consumers' tastes, while older consumers' tastes remained largely unchanged. We then link these long-run changes in alcohol consumption patterns to changes in male mortality. The shift from hard to light alcohol reduces incidences of binge drinking substantially, leading to fewer alcohol-related deaths. We conclude that the resulting large cohort differences in current alcohol consumption shares explain a significant part of the recent decrease in male mortality. Simulations suggest that mortality will continue to decrease by another 23\% over the next twenty years due to persistent changes in consumer tastes. Program impact evaluations that focus only on contemporaneous effects can therefore severely underestimate the total effect of such public policies which change preferences for goods.
3. Tax News Shocks and Consumption, August 2018. [Abstract], [Old Slides], [Online Appendix], [NBER executive summary], [Movie].
ABSTRACT: How predictable are personal income tax rates in the U.S., and does household spending respond to news about future taxes even before the rates change? To answer these questions, this paper uses novel historical high-frequency data of tax-exempt municipal bonds and develops a model of the term structure of municipal yield spreads to taxable bonds as a function of future top income tax rates and a risk premium. Testing the model using the presidential elections of 1980, 1992 and 2000 shows that financial markets forecast future tax reforms remarkably well in both the short and long run. Combining these market-based tax expectations or "tax news shocks" with data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey shows strong evidence of anticipation effects to future tax changes among higher-income consumers, well before the tax rates change. Consumer spending changes about one-for-one with changes in expected lifetime tax liabilities. These findings imply that ignoring anticipation effects can substantially bias estimates of the total effect of a tax change.
Note: This video shows the evolution of the path of market-based expected tax rates from the beginning of the Carter administration in January 1977 through the first year of the Reagan administration. With a forecast horizon of 1 to 15 years, the movie shows when markets begin to anticipate the Reagan tax cuts, and how persistent they expect these tax shocks to be. The paths of expected tax rates are calculated from the term structure of yield spreads between Treasury and municipal bonds between 1/1977 and 8/1982. The time series of the actual effective top 1% tax rate (i.e., the perfect foresight tax rate) is based on Saez (2004). [Note: If you cannot see the movie you can download the file here.]
Companion paper to : 3b. The Taxation of Bonds: A Short Primer, October 2011. [Abstract]
ABSTRACT: The taxation of fixed-income securities is complex, but important for understanding the pricing of bonds. This short primer explains what researchers who are interested in bond pricing should know about the taxation of fixed-income securities. The different tax rules since 1970 are formalized within a simple asset pricing framework.
2. The Impact of Emerging Market Competition on Innovation and Business Strategy (with Nick Li and Mu-Jeung Yang), November 2016, submitted. [Abstract], [Media Coverage].
ABSTRACT: How do firms in high-income countries adjust to emerging market competition? We estimate how a representative panel of Canadian firms adjusts innovation activities, business strategies, and exit in response to large increases in Chinese imports between 1999 and 2005. On average, process innovation declines more strongly than product innovation. In addition, initially more differentiated firms that survive the increase in competition have better performance ex-post, but are ex-ante more likely to exit. Differentiation therefore does not ensure insulation against competitive shocks but instead increases risk.
1. Sources of Firm Life-Cycle Dynamics: Size vs. Age Effects (with Bryan Hong and Mu-Jeung Yang), January 2017. [Abstract].
ABSTRACT: What determines the life-cycle of businesses? Exploiting unique firm-level panel data on internal organization and innovation we establish three key sets of stylized facts to inform recent theories of firm life-cycles. First, life-cycle effects are driven by startups, not by new establishments of existing firms. Second, organizational restructuring and innovation are both strongly correlated with firm growth but not with firm age, in contrast to passive learning theories of firm dynamics. Third, there are important sectoral differences in innovation activities which are monotonically increasing in firm size for manufacturing firms but hump-shaped for firms in service industries.
- The Riskiness of Owning vs. Renting Housing (with Scott Baker, Lee Lockwood and Pinchuan Ong). [Abstract].
ABSTRACT: Housing is most homeowners' most important non-human asset, and housing costs are one of the largest determinants of the cost of living. House prices and housing costs are both subject to substantial risk, much of which is driven by changes in local labor market conditions. In spatial equilibrium, such location-level shocks create systematic correlations between wages, rents, and house prices that are crucial determinants of the riskiness of owning versus renting housing. Using Census data from 1940-2010, we estimate risk processes for county-level wages, rents, and house prices. For all period lengths ranging from 10 to 70 years, we find that location-specific risk is substantial and that wages and rents are strongly positively correlated. As a result, for a typical working-age household, owning is much riskier than renting housing. Owning both eliminates the household's exposure to rent risk, which is costly because rent risk hedges earnings risk, and exposes the household to house price risk, which is substantial even over long horizons. Analyses of a life-cycle model suggest that the risk-exposure advantages of renting are large on average and highly dependent on a few key characteristics of households and locations. These results have important implications for government policies that affect housing tenure choices and the elasticity of housing supply.
- Undiversified Real Estate Investors and Endogenous House Prices (with Charles Nathanson)
- Deleveraging and the Macroeconomy: Evidence from Account-Level Data (with Scott Baker, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman)
- The Note Issue Paradox: Free Banking in Switzerland 1872-1881, March 2007. (This was my 1st-year economic history paper in graduate school. Brad DeLong thought it was worth publishing so I am making it public here.) [Abstract].
ABSTRACT: This paper uses the unique institutional setting of Swiss cantons from 1872 to 1881 to study the note-issuing behavior of private banks in a free banking system. I find that these banks over-issue notes, in contrast to recent literature on free banking in the United States in the 19th century such Bodenhorn and Haupert (1996). This new conclusion results from measuring two additional determinants of note-issuing that have previously been ignored: the average withdrawals from deposit accounts, and the interest rate paid on those deposit accounts. Controlling for these two variables reveals that the expected return on note-issuing exceeds the returns on deposit creation. Therefore, banks issued too many notes, failing to take into account the negative externality imposed on other issuing banks by the increased transaction costs that result from the larger flow of species and by the effect on the exchange rate volatility.
- The Impact of Immigration on Swiss Wages: A Fixed Effects Two Stage Least Squares Analysis, February 2005. (This was a term paper in my last year of undergraduate studies. It still gets some citations so I am posting it here for reference.) [Abstract].
ABSTRACT: This paper studies how immigration from 1993 to 2000 affected the Swiss labor market.
- Evaluation wirtschaftspolitischer Programme, May 2005. (English title: Evaluation of Regional Economic Promotion Policies; this was my Master's thesis.)
- Discussion of Nicole Branger, Linda Larsen, and Claus Munk, "Hedging Recessions," Midwest Finance Association (MFA) Annual Meeting, Chicago IL, March 2019.
- Discussion of Michael Gelman, "The Self-Constrained Hand-to-Mouth," American Economic Association (AEA) Annual Meeting, Atlanta GA, January 2019.
- Discussion of Jeehoon Han, Bruce Meyer, and James Sullivan, "Inequality in the Joint Distribution of Consumption and Time Use," National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), London UK, June 2018.
- Discussion of Damon Jones and Ioana Marinescu, "The Labor Market Impacts of Universal and Permanent Cash Transfers: Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund," American Economic Association (AEA) Annual Meeting, Philadelphia PA, January 2018.
- Discussion of Deniz Aydin, "The Marginal Propensity to Consume out of Credit: Evidence from Random Assignment of 54,522 Credit Lines," The Society for Financial Studies (SFS) Finance Cavalcade Conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN, May 2017.
- Discussion of Tania Babina, Chotibhak Jotikasthira, Christian Lundblad and Tarun Ramadorai, "Heterogenous Taxes and Limited Risk Sharing: Evidence from Municipal Bonds," American Finance Association (AFA) Annual Meeting, San Francisco CA, January 2016.
- Discussion of Karel Mertens, "Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence," CIREQ Macroeconomics Conference, Montreal Canada, April 2014.