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Incentive Effects of Retirement Income Transfers

Piggot, John and Robalino, David and Jimenez-Martin, Sergi (2008): Incentive Effects of Retirement Income Transfers.

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Abstract

The paper explores the incentive effects of retirement income transfers – essentially, non-contributory cash transfers aimed at reducing poverty among the elderly. A literature review reveals how little academic analysis of the impact of these transfers has been completed. We begin with a taxonomy of retirement income transfers, differentiating between ex-ante and ex-post interventions and universal and targeted arrangements. This distinction allows important differences across designs to be highlighted. We then provide a simple framework for thinking about what the incentive impacts of the transfers might be, distinguishing between effects related to the transfer itself and those related to the financing mechanism. Thus, from theory and available empirical evidence we derive a few policy relevant findings. First, incentive effects will depend on the level of the transfer relative to average earnings and the degree of integration between the formal and informal sectors in the economy. In general, for modest transfers, negative impacts on savings and labor supply would be contained. Second, we highlight the tradeoff between maintaining low effective marginal tax rates (EMTRs) to reduce distortions and keeping the program costs at affordable levels. This tradeoff suggests that universal programs are suboptimal. Third, in terms of design features, we emphasize the importance of implementing a gradual withdrawal of the benefit to avoid crowding-out contributory pensions among low income individuals and of indexing the eligibility age with life expectancy to contain costs. Finally we find that matching contributions can be a promising instrument to promote savings among individuals with limited savings capacity.

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