José-Víctor Ríos-Rull was a consultant with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2007 to 2016, and has been affiliated with the Bank in various capacities since 1987. He was Carlson Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota from 2007 to 2015 and has also taught economics at University College, London, and Carnegie Mellon University. In 2015 he became Lawrence R. Klein Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Víctor received B.A. degrees in sociology and economics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 1980 and 1982, respectively. In 1990 he earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on thinking simultaneously about individual persons and the aggregate economy, on issues ranging from housing prices to shares of output, from credit and bankruptcy to living arrangements of families, from economic fluctuations to positive models of economic policy.
Víctor’s large and respected body of research spans several decades and has appeared in many prestigious publications, including the Journal of Political Economy, the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Studies, Econometrica, Demography, the International Economic Review, the Journal of Economic Theory, the Journal of Monetary Economics, and the Journal of the European Economic Association. He is also a research affiliate at the Center for European Policy Research and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and leads the Centro de Análisis y Estudios Ríos Pérez.
This article is largely a description of the earnings, income, and wealth distributions in the United States in 2013 as measured by the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). We describe facts that lie at the joint distribution of the three variables. We look at inequality in relation to age, education, employer status, and marital status. We discuss the evolution of our results over the past 25 years (1989 – 2013), emphasizing the role played by the Great Recession. We pay special attention to the degree of income and wealth concentration at the top and discuss what the use of the SCF data can contribute to the ongoing debate on this topic. Finally, we look at which income sources and asset classes contribute most to income and wealth concentration.
A case can be made for the Great Recession being the result of a large financial shock that makes household borrowing difficult. The channel involves large reductions in house prices, which trigger sharp reductions in consumption.
We discuss the ingredients necessary for a quantitative macroeconomic model to successfully implement such a theory. They include: wealth heterogeneity, where the majority of the population needs to acquire financing to purchase houses despite the large amount of wealth in the economy; sizable real frictions that hinder the transformation of consumption into exports and investment and that constrain the increase of household working hours; and a role for expenditures in contributing to productivity.
We study financial shocks to households’ ability to borrow in an economy that quantitatively replicates U.S. earnings, financial, and housing wealth distributions and the main macro aggregates. Such shocks generate large recessions via the negative wealth effect associated with the large drop in house prices triggered by the reduced access to credit of a large number of households. The model incorporates additional margins that are crucial for a large recession to occur: that it is difficult to reallocate production from consumption to investment or net exports, and that the reductions in consumption contribute to reductions in measured TFP.
We construct a stochastic overlapping-generations general equilibrium model in which households are subject to aggregate shocks that affect both wages and asset prices. We use a calibrated version of the model to quantify how the welfare costs of big recessions are distributed across different household age groups. The model predicts that younger cohorts fare better than older cohorts when the equilibrium decline in asset prices is large relative to the decline in wages. Asset price declines hurt the old, who rely on asset sales to finance consumption, but benefit the young, who purchase assets at depressed prices. In our preferred calibration, asset prices decline 2.4 times as much as wages, consistent with the experience of the US economy in the Great Recession. A model recession is close to welfare neutral for households in the 20–29 age group, but translates into a large welfare loss of more than 8% of lifetime consumption for households aged 70 and over.
Standard neoclassical models are unable to generate large values for the fiscal multiplier, the aggregate economic response to increased government spending. Empirical estimates place the multiplier between 0.7 and 1.0. Standard models deliver figures close to zero. In an earlier policy paper, we modified the standard model, with features of demand-based productivity. These modifications raised the figure to just 0.17, still very far from the range found in the empirical literature.
In this note, we introduce a further modification that does produce a fiscal multiplier as large as the empirical estimates. The previous set of modifications involved the disutility of having to search for desired goods and services. We now introduce a feature that amplifies this search process: product variety. When households desire many varieties and search is costly, it creates the possibility of excess capacity.
We build a variation of the neoclassical growth model in which both wealth shocks (in the sense of wealth destruction) and financial shocks to households generate recessions. The model features three mild departures from the standard model: (1) adjustment costs make it difficult to expand the tradable goods sector by reallocating factors of production from nontradables to tradables; (2) there is a mild form of labor market frictions (Nash bargaining wage setting with Mortensen-Pissarides labor markets); (3) goods markets for nontradables require active search from households wherein increases in consumption expenditures increase measured productivity. These departures provide a novel quantitative theory to explain recessions like those in southern Europe without relying on technology shocks.
We build a variation of the neoclassical growth model in which financial shocks to households or wealth shocks (in the sense of wealth destruction) generate recessions. Two standard ingredients that are necessary are (1) the existence of adjustment costs that make the expansion of the tradable goods sector difficult and (2) the existence of some frictions in the labor market that prevent enormous reductions in real wages (Nash bargaining in Mortensen-Pissarides labor markets is enough). We pose a new ingredient that greatly magnifies the recession: a reduction in consumption expenditures reduces measured productivity, while technology is unchanged due to reduced utilization of production capacity. Our model provides a novel, quantitative theory of the current recessions in southern Europe.
We develop a new methodology to compute differences in the expected longevity of individuals who are in different socioeconomic groups at age 50. We deal with two main problems associated with the standard use of life expectancy: that people’s socioeconomic characteristics evolve over time and that there is a time trend that reduces mortality over time. Using HRS data for individuals from different cohorts, we estimate a hazard model for survival with time-varying stochastic endogenous covariates that yields the desired expected durations. We uncover an enormous amount of heterogeneity in expected longevities between individuals in different socioeconomic groups, albeit less than implied by a naive (static) use of socioeconomic characteristics. Our analysis allows us to decompose the longevity differentials into differences in health at age 50, differences in mortality conditional on health, and differences in the evolution of health with age. Remarkably, it is the latter that is the most important for most socioeconomic characteristics. For instance, education and wealth are health protecting but have little impact on two-year mortality rates conditional on health. Finally, we document an increasing time trend of all these differentials in the period 1992–2008, and a likely increase in the socioeconomic gradient in mortality rates in the near future. The mortality differences that we find have huge welfare implications that dwarf the differences in consumption accruing to people in different socioeconomic groups.
In this note, we demonstrate and analyze the inability of standard neoclassical models to generate accurate estimates of the fiscal multiplier (that is, the macroeconomic response to increased government spending). We then examine whether estimates can be improved by incorporating recently developed theory on demand-induced productivity increases into neoclassical models. We find that neoclassical models modified in this fashion produce considerably better estimates, but they remain unable to generate anything close to an accurate value of the fiscal multiplier.
This article is largely a description of inequality of earnings, income, and wealth in the United States in 2007 as measured by the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). We look at inequality in relation to various characteristics such as age, education, employment status, marital status, and whether households are late payers or include bankruptcy filers. We also look at economic mobility. We compare these variables in 2007 with their values in our earlier study in 1998.
In this paper, we employ both calibration and modern (Bayesian) estimation methods to assess the role of neutral and investment-specific technology shocks in generating fluctuations in hours. Using a neoclassical stochastic growth model, we show how answers are shaped by the identification strategies and not by the statistical approaches. The crucial parameter is the labor supply elasticity. Both a calibration procedure that uses modern assessments of the Frisch elasticity and the estimation procedures result in technology shocks accounting for 2% to 9% of the variation in hours worked in the data. We infer that we should be talking more about identification and less about the choice of particular quantitative approaches.
This article uses data from the 1998 Survey of Consumer Finances and from recent waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to update a study of economic inequality in the United States based on 1992 and earlier data. The article reports data on the U.S. distributions of earnings, income, and wealth and on related features of inequality, such as age, employment status, educational attainment, and marital status. It also reports data on the economic inequality among U.S. households in financial trouble and on the economic mobility of U.S. households. The article finds that earnings, income, and wealth were very unequally distributed among U.S. households late in the 1990s, just as they had been at the beginning of the decade. It concludes that the basic facts about economic inequality in the United States did not change much during the 1990s.
A necessary feature for equilibrium is that beliefs about the behavior of other agents are rational. We argue that in stationary OLG environments this implies that any future generation in the same situation as the initial generation must do as well as the initial generation did in that situation. We conclude that the existing equilibrium concepts in the literature do not satisfy this condition. We then propose an alternative equilibrium concept, organizational equilibrium, that satisfies this condition. We show that equilibrium exists, it is unique, and it improves over autarky without achieving optimality. Moreover, the equilibrium can be readily found by solving a maximization program.
The notion of skilled-biased technological change is often held responsible for the recent behavior of the U.S. skill premium, or the ratio between the wages of skilled and unskilled labor. This paper develops a framework for understanding this notion in terms of observable variables and uses the framework to evaluate the fraction of the skill premium’s variation that is caused by changes in observables. A version of the neoclassical growth model is used in which the key feature of aggregate technology is capital-skill complementarity: the elasticity of substitution is higher between capital equipment and unskilled labor than between capital equipment and skilled labor. With this feature, changes in observables can account for nearly all the variation in the skill premium over the last 30 years. This finding suggests that increased wage inequality results from economic growth driven by new, efficient technologies embodied in capital equipment.
Between the sixties and the late eighties the percentages of low-saving single-parent households and people living alone have grown dramatically at the expense of high-saving married households, while the household saving rate has declined equally dramatically. A preliminary analysis of population composition and savings by household type seems to indicate that about half of the decline in savings is due to demographic change. We construct a model with agents changing marital status, but where the saving behavior of the households can adjust to the properties of the demographic process. We find that the demographic changes that reduce the number of married households (mainly higher divorce and higher illegitimacy) induce all household types to save more and that the effect on the aggregate saving rate is minuscule. We conclude that the drop in savings since the sixties is not due to changes in household composition.
We study a dynamic version of Meltzer and Richard’s median-voter analysis of the size of government. Taxes are proportional to total income, and they are used for government consumption, which is exogenous, and for lump-sum transfers, whose size is chosen by electoral vote. Votes take place sequentially over time, and each agent votes for the policy that maximizes his equilibrium utility. We calibrate the model and its income and wealth distribution to match postwar U.S. data. This allows a quantitative assessment of the equilibrium costs of redistribution, which involves distortions to the labor-leisure and consumption-savings choices, and of its benefits for the decisive voter. We find that the total size of transfers predicted by our political-economy model is quite close to the size of transfers in the data.
This paper essentially puts together procedures that are used in the computation of equilibria in models with a very large number of heterogeneous agents. It is not a complete description of all procedures used in the literature. It describes procedures that deal with infinitely lived agent versions of the growth model with and without aggregate uncertainty, overlapping generations models, and dynamic political economy models.
This article describes the current state of economic theory intended to explain the unequal distribution of wealth among U.S. households. The models reviewed are heterogeneous agent versions of standard neoclassical growth models with uninsurable idiosyncratic shocks to earnings. The models endogenously generate differences in asset holdings as a result of the household’s desire to smooth consumption while earnings fluctuate. Both of the dominant types of models—dynastic and life cycle models—reproduce the U.S. wealth distribution poorly. The article describes several features recently proposed as additions to the theory based on changes in earnings, including business ownership, higher rates of return on high asset levels, random capital gains, government programs to guarantee a minimum level of consumption, and changes in health and marital status. None of these features has been fully analyzed yet, but they all seem to have potential to move the models in the right direction.
This article describes some facts about financial inequality in the United States that a good theory of inequality must be able to explain. These include the facts that labor earnings, income, and wealth are all unequally distributed among U.S. households, but the distributions are significantly different. Wealth is much more concentrated than the other two. Wealth is positively correlated with earnings and income, but not strongly. The movement of households up and down the economic scale is greater when measured by income than by earnings or wealth. Differences across the three variables remain when the data are disaggregated by age, employment status, educational level, and marital status of the heads of U.S. households. Each of these classifications also has significant differences across households. All the facts are based on data taken from the 1992 Survey of Consumer Finances and the 1984–85 and 1989–90 Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
In this paper we develop a model in which a country faces a balance of payments crisis if constraints on its international borrowing bind. We use the model to describe the dynamics of the trade balance, capital account, and balance of payments of a country that borrows to finance consumption following sweeping macroeconomic and structural reforms and then hits constraints on its international borrowing. We compare the predictions of this theoretical example with events in Mexico from 1987 through 1995.