Tag Archives: Ageing

Ageing Economies Grew Faster

That’s what Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo document in an NBER working paper.

Figure 2 [below] provides a glimpse of the relevant pattern by depicting the raw correlation between the change in GDP per capita between 1990 and 2015 and the change in the ratio of the population above 50 to the population between the ages of 20 and 49. … even when we control for initial GDP per capita, initial demographic composition and differential trends by region, there is no evidence of a negative relationship between aging and GDP per capita; on the contrary, the relationship is significantly positive in many specifications.

In an article published in 2012 with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras (see also the VoxEU column), we provide a theory that can account for this finding.

Global Disability is Rising

A study published in The Lancet argues that

[t]he transition to non-fatal outcomes as the dominant source of burden of disease is occurring rapidly outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Economist summarizes the findings as follows:

… back pain causes the greatest burden in rich countries with ageing populations. Depression often tops the list in poorer, younger ones. Anaemia heads it in some destitute or war-torn states, where food shortages are common. Conversely, in some sedentary and prosperous parts of the Middle East diabetes is of most concern.


Debt Supercycle rather than Secular Stagnation

In a Vox column, Ken Rogoff argues that the world economy experiences a “debt supercycle” rather than the onset of secular stagnation in the West.

Rogoff argues that macroeconomic developments since the financial crisis are in line with historical experience, as documented in his book “This Time is Different” (with Carmen Reinhart): A large fall in output followed by a sluggish recovery; deleveraging; protracted higher unemployment; and a strong rise of the government debt quota are typical after a boom and bust of house prices and credit.

According to Rogoff, policy makers should have implemented more heterodox policies including debt write-downs; bank restructurings coupled with recapitalisations; and temporarily higher inflation targets. Rogoff supports the (in his view, orthodox) fiscal policy responses that were adopted but criticizes that many countries tightened prematurely.

Rogoff acknowledges that secular forces shape the macroeconomy, in particular population ageing; the stabilization of the female labor force participation rate; the growth slowdown in Asia; and the slowdown or acceleration (?) of technological progress. But

[t]he debt supercycle model matches up with a couple of hundred years of experience of similar financial crises. The secular stagnation view does not capture the heart attack the global economy experienced; slow-moving demographics do not explain sharp housing price bubbles and collapses.

Rogoff doesn’t accept low interest rates as an argument in favor of the secular stagnation view. Rather than reflecting demand deficiencies, low interest rates (if measured correctly—Rogoff expects a utility based interest rate measure to be higher) could reflect regulation (favoring low-risk borrowers and “knocking out other potential borrowers who might have competed up rates”) and to some extent central bank policies.

Rogoff argues that the global stock market boom poses a problem for the secular stagnation view. He proposes changed perceptions about the likelihood and cost of extreme events (Barro, Weitzman) as factors to explain both low real interest rates and the stock market boom (after an initial asset price collapse during the crisis).

Regarding policy prescriptions to expand public investment in light of the low interest rates, Rogoff notes that

it is highly superficial and dangerous to argue that debt is basically free. To the extent that low interest rates result from fear of tail risks a la Barro-Weitzman, one has to assume that the government is not itself exposed to the kinds of risks the market is worried about, especially if overall economy-wide debt and pension obligations are near or at historic highs already. [Moreover] one has to worry whether higher government debt will perpetuate the political economy of policies that are helping the government finance debt, but making it more difficult for small businesses and the middle class to obtain credit.

Rogoff considers rising inequality to be problematic (and a possible factor for higher savings rates):

Tax policy should be used to address these secular trends, perhaps starting with higher taxes on urban land, which seems to lie at the root of inequality in wealth trends

He concludes that the case for a debt supercycle is stronger than for secular stagnation:

[T]he US appears to be near the tail end of its leverage cycle, Europe is still deleveraging, while China may be nearing the downside of a leverage cycle.

“Ageing, Government Budgets, Retirement and Growth,” EER, 2012

European Economic Review 56(1), January 2012, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We analyze the short and long run effects of demographic ageing—increased longevity and reduced fertility—on per-capita growth. The OLG model captures direct effects, working through adjustments in the savings rate, labor supply, and capital deepening, and indirect effects, working through changes of taxes, government spending components and the retirement age in politico-economic equilibrium. Growth is driven by capital accumulation and productivity increases fueled by public investment. The closed-form solutions of the model predict taxation and the retirement age in OECD economies to increase in response to demographic ageing and per-capita growth to accelerate. If the retirement age were held constant, the growth rate in politico-economic equilibrium would essentially remain unchanged, due to a surge of social security transfers and crowding out of public investment.

(Unfortunately, the acknowledgements got lost in the publishing process.) For comments, we thank Casper van Ewijk, Enrique Kawamura, George McCandless, Alex Monge, Vincenzo Quadrini, Jaume Ventura, Fabrizio Zilibotti as well as conference and seminar participants at Banco Central de la Republica Argentina, CREI (Universidad Pompeu Fabra), EEA annual meeting, EPRU (University of Copenhagen), ESSIM, IIES (Stockholm University), Netspar, Penn State, SED annual meeting, Study Center Gerzensee, and Universidad de San Andres. Andreas Walchli provided valuable research assistance.

“Bedroht der demografische Wandel die Produktivität? (Does Population Ageing Lower Productivity Growth?),” NZZ, 2011

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 16, 2011. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, November 16, 2011. HTML.

  • The economics is not as worrying as many believe.
  • But the politics is.

“The Future of Social Security,” JME, 2008

Journal of Monetary Economics 55(2), March 2008, with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF.

We analyze the effect of the projected demographic transition on the political support for social security, and equilibrium outcomes. Embedding a probabilistic-voting setup of electoral competition in the standard OLG model with capital accumulation, we find that intergenerational transfers arise in the absence of altruism, commitment, or trigger strategies. Closed-form solutions predict population ageing to lead to higher social security tax rates, a rising share of pensions in GDP, but eventually lower social security benefits per retiree. The response of equilibrium tax rates to demographic shocks reduces old-age consumption risk. Calibrated to match features of the U.S. economy, the model suggests that, in response to the projected demographic transition, social security tax rates will gradually increase to 16%. Other policies that distort labor supply will become less important; labor supply therefore will rise, in contrast with frequently voiced fears.