Measuring Intergenerational Justice

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Laurence J. Kotlikoff


Concern with intergenerational justice has long been a focus of economics. This essay considers the effort, over the last three decades, to quantify generational fiscal burdens using label-free fiscal gap and generational accounting. It also points out that government debt -- the conventional metric for assessing generational fiscal justice,– has no grounding in economic theory. Instead, official debt is the result of economically arbitrary government labelling decisions: whether to call receipts “taxes” rather than “borrowing” and whether to call payments “transfer payments” rather than “debt service”. Via their choice of words, governments decide which obligations to put on, and which to keep off, the books. The essay also looks to the future of generational fiscal-justice analysis. Rapid computational advances are permitting economists to understand not just direct government intergenerational redistribution, but also how such policies impact the economy that future generations will inherit.

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Author Biography

Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Boston University

Laurence J. Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He co-developed generational and fiscal gap accounting, helped developed the field of generational economics, and has been one of the world’s strongest proponents of generational equity. The Economist named Kotlikoff one of the world’s 25 most influential economists.