Micro-Simulation in Action: Volume 25


Table of contents

(11 chapters)

This volume initiates a new collaboration between Research in Labor Economics (RLE) published by Elsevier Press and the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). Beginning 2006, the RLE series extends to two volumes per year. One volume will remain in the tradition of the series, consisting of empirical and theoretical contributions in labor economics, while the other volume will focus on specific policy questions. IZA has become one of the largest organizations of labor scholars worldwide while RLE is now a well-established publication containing labor economics research. We hope this new association will be a meaningful development for both IZA fellows and RLE readers.

This volume is remarkable as the confluence of three important streams of research. The first is that of micro-simulation. Fifty years ago, Guy Orcutt had a vision of what could be achieved by the application of simulation methods to the economic and social behavior of individuals. At that time, progress was held back by the lack of computing power and by the paucity of micro-data. Both have been transformed in the last quarter of a century, allowing this branch of research to flourish. The development of tax benefit models, for example, has greatly increased the capacity of economists to advise about the implications of proposed reforms. I can remember in the early 1980s advising a Parliamentary Committee, where, each time a new tax benefit reform was proposed, the secretary would spend the weekend calculating the impact on a handful of stylized cases. Now, the ability to do just the arithmetic on a random sample of the population gives a new dimension to the policy debate, to say nothing of the modeling of incentive effects and behavioral responses.

By the mid-1990s the potential and usefulness of microsimulation models for researching tax-benefit systems had found widespread acceptance. Nevertheless, models were not widely available for independent or academic research in all countries of the European Union (EU). Even more important, carrying out consistent comparative tax-benefit microsimulation analysis was still an apparently impossible task. The time seemed ready for a European-Union-wide tax-benefit microsimulation model. Such a model, EUROMOD, is now available.

This chapter is devoted to a short introduction to EUROMOD, including the reasons why it was built, its added value compared to existing models, the trade-offs faced by its builders and lessons that have been learnt from developing such an integrated model. Moreover, it aims to provide an insight into the wide range of possible applications of EUROMOD, underlined by summarizing some indicative findings of studies, which have used the model.

This paper considers the effects on current pensioner incomes of reforms designed to improve the long-term sustainability of public pension systems in the European Union. We use EUROMOD to simulate a set of common illustrative reforms for four countries selected on the basis of their diverse pension systems and patterns of poverty among the elderly: Denmark, Germany, Italy and the UK. The variations in fiscal and distributive effects on the one hand suggest that different paths for reform are necessary in order to achieve common objectives across countries, and on the other provide indications of the appropriate directions for reform in each case.

Research has shown that the tax treatment of replacement incomes differs considerably among countries. Consequently, the ranking of countries by expenditure level is different for gross and net social expenditures. On a micro level this is translated into a gap between gross and net benefits; this gap varies among countries. In this chapter, we use EUROMOD for an international comparison of the difference between gross and net benefits at the micro level. We investigate the distribution effects of the income tax treatment of replacement benefits, focusing on old-age pensions and unemployment benefits. We present a summary overview of the different ways of levying taxes on benefits in the pre-2004 EU-15 countries. We then try to answer the question how the tax treatment of social security benefits affects the distribution of these benefits and how progressive taxes on benefits are compared to taxes on earnings.

The paper examines the effect of family transfers on child poverty in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Family transfers are defined as to include non-contributory child benefits, contributory family allowances and tax credits or allowances. The drive to reduce child poverty is of particular interest in southern Europe, where public support to poor families with children is often meagre or not available at all. The paper uses the European cross-country microsimulation model, EUROMOD, to assess the distributional impact of existing family transfers and to explore the scope for policy reforms, before it concludes with a discussion of key findings and policy implications.

A method of systematically assessing the “first-round” impact of tax and transfer policy changes on the income distribution and the incidence of relative income poverty is proposed. It involves the construction of a “distributionally neutral” policy, which can be approximated by a policy that indexes tax allowances, credits and bands and welfare payment rates in line with a broad measure of income growth. The impact of actual policy changes in five EU countries over the 1998–2001 period is then measured against this benchmark, using the EUROMOD tax-benefit model.

By reducing the real value of nominally fixed tax band limits, deductions and tax credits, inflation can lead to higher real tax burdens (“fiscal drag”). The traditional view is that this reduces aggregate demand and thus acts as an automatic stabiliser. Yet, this familiar reasoning ignores the supply side and, in particular, possible effects of higher tax burdens on labour costs. Recent work on imperfect labour markets has shown that such effects can indeed arise as employees are able to bargain for higher wages that partly compensate for tax increases. In this case, the resulting upwards pressure on real labour costs can be inflationary. To illustrate this mechanism, this article analyses labour tax burdens in four European countries and how they are altered if tax systems are not adjusted for inflation. This is then combined with available results on the effects of tax changes on wages in imperfect labour markets. The results suggest that, in an unadjusted tax system, inflation can produce a moderate upward pressure on wages. It is argued, however, that more detailed empirical work on the role of taxes in the wage-setting process is needed as existing work ignores the substantial heterogeneity of workers and the tax rates they face.

Social assistance and inactivity traps have long been considered as one of the main causes of the poor employment performance of EU countries. The success of New Labour in the UK has triggered a growing interests in instruments capable of combining the promotion of responsibility and self-sufficiency with solidarity with less skilled workers. Making-work-pay (MWP) policies, consisting of transfers to households with low earning capacity, have quickly emerged as the most politically acceptable instruments in tax-benefit reforms of many Anglo-Saxon countries. This chapter explores the impact of introducing the British Working Families’ Tax Credit (WFTC) in three EU countries with rather different labor market and welfare institutions: Finland, France and Germany. Simulating the reform reveals that, while first-round effects on income distribution is considerable, the interaction of the new instrument with the structural characteristics of the economy and the population may lead to counterproductive second round effects (i.e. changes in economic behavior). The implementation of the reform, in this case, could only be justified if the social inclusion (i.e. transition into activity) of some specific household types (singles and single mothers) is valued more than a rise in the employment per se.

In this paper, I support the usefulness of using microsimulation models for the normative analysis of real redistribution system. Drawing from three recent works (Bourguignon & Spadaro, 2000, 2005; Oliver & Spadaro, 2004), I propose an application consisting in analyzing how social preferences on inequality have changed since the introduction of the 1999 reforms to the Spanish personal income tax (PIT). The starting point is the observed distribution of a population's gross and disposable incomes and the observed marginal tax rates as computed in standard microsimulation models. I show that, using a set of simplifying assumptions, it is possible to identify the social welfare function that would make the observed marginal tax rate schedule optimal. I apply this methodology to the 1998 and 1999 Spanish PIT, using the Eurostat (ECHP) dataset on the income and socio-demographic characteristics of Spanish households.

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Research in Labor Economics
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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