Welfare state and social Europe

Vyacheslav Fos, Naser Hamdi, Ankit Kalda, Jordan Nickerson, 29 March 2020

The growth of the gig economy has renewed debates about how to regulate employers who provide neither health insurance nor social security benefits to their employees. Using a combination of Uber product launch dates and employee-level data on job separations, this column finds that employees who are laid off from their formal occupations but have access to Uber are less likely to rely on unemployment insurance. Instead, gig labour provides a safety net as they search for more permanent work in the formal market.

Thiemo Fetzer, Srinjoy Sen, Pedro Souza, 27 February 2020

Homelessness and precarious living conditions are on the rise across much of the Western world. This column examines the impact of a shock to the affordability of rent in the private sector in the UK, in the form of a cut in housing subsidies for low-income households, on homelessness and insecure living conditions as well as on democratic participation. The findings suggest that the cut was, to a large extent, a false economy. The net fiscal savings for the central government were markedly offset by significantly higher local government spending to meet statutory obligations for prevention of homelessness. The cut also led to widespread distress among benefit claimants, some of whom went into rent arrears and were forcefully displaced from their homes.

Bruno Caprettini, Hans-Joachim Voth, 22 February 2020

Governments of modern states need to convince men and women to fight and possibly to die for their country, putting aside their ‘selfish’ instinct to stay alive. This column examines whether welfare spending under Roosevelt’s New Deal boosted US patriotism during WWII. It finds that higher welfare spending prior to 1940 is positively correlated with greater patriotism, as measured by war bond purchases, volunteering for the US Army, and exceptionally brave acts in battle. The findings suggest that when the federal government looks out for its citizens’ needs, men and women who benefit repay the largesse by becoming more patriotic.

Laurence Kotlikoff, 19 February 2020

The US has spent the entire post-war period running a massive and ever-growing Ponzi scheme that takes from the young and gives to the old. This column discusses how the scheme has been and is being run by expanding take-as-you-go-financed Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid systems, by running huge official deficits, and by imposing a larger share of taxes on the young and a smaller share on the old. Take as you go, whether done on or off the books, has done precisely as theoretically predicted – reduced the US’s national saving rate from 13% in the 1950s and 1960s to 3% in the last two decades. This underlies, in large part, a commensurate drop in the domestic investment rate, which was also 13% between 1950 and 1969 and is now running at 4%. The textbook predicted consequence? Lower median labour productivity and median real wage growth.

Svend E. Hougaard Jensen, Gylfi Zoega, 21 December 2019

Everyone contributes equally to government-run pension schemes, but not everyone will spend the same number of years in retirement – blue-collar workers, for instance, do not live as long as their white-collar counterparts. Rather than pooling the resources of a heterogeneous group of workers, this column proposes that each worker receive a lump sum at a certain age, which they can then give to an occupational pension fund better informed about the life expectancy of its own participants.

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