Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to compensate the short-lived

It is very unfortunate if you die early, and knowing this it would be optimal to compensate you for this misfortune. But this is difficult to achieve as your death is not predictable, and compensation after death is not very helpful to the deceased.

Marc Fleurbaey, Marie-Louise Leroux and Grégory Ponthière have figured out a scheme that would achieve this. First, they need to define a social welfare function that would make it desirable to compensate people for shorter lives. Second, they find a policy that would achieve such a compensation. The policy is to essentially cancel social security while putting the mandatory retirement earlier.

Basically it is all about getting people to consume early, so that the different between being dead or alive is not that large later in life. This seems very difficult to achieve given that life valuation studies indicate that people value life at a multiple of consumption. Furthermore, if we discourage people from saving that much, this must have large negative consequences for the accumulation of capital in a macroeconomic sense, something that has been neglected here, and should not.

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