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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An ethically flexible evaluation of unemployment insurance reform with constrained and unconstrained models of labour supply Phipps, Shelley Ann


The goal of this dissertation is to illustrate the importance and feasibility of conducting policy evaluations which pay attention to both efficiency and equity. Introducing an equity criterion necessarily involves introducing value judgements, but I suggest that objectivity can be maintained through the adoption of an 'ethically flexible' approach. That is, an analyst can avoid imposing his own particular values by explicitly conducting the evaluation from a number of different ethical positions. This dissertation illustrates the feasibility of an ethically flexible approach by carrying out an evaluation of the proposals for the reform of the Canadian Unemployment Insurance (UI) programme made by the Macdonald and Forget Commissions. The evaluation proceeds in four stages: 1. Behavioural models which take account of the existence of unemployment and UI are developed. 2. The models are estimated using an appropriate Canadian data set. 3. The estimated models are used to simulate behavioural responses to UI reform. 4. Estimation and simulation results are used to carry out the ethically flexible welfare evaluation. Two household labour-supply models are used. The first assumes that observed unemployment is the outcome of utility-maximizing choices. The second introduces the possibility that demand-side constraints may interfere with supply-side choices. A form of switching regression with sample separation unknown is developed to allow estimation of 'constrained' labour-supply functions. Additional problems for estimation include a budget constraint which is non-linear as a result of the UI programme and a dependent variable, weeks of leisure (unemployment), which is limited to values between zero and fifty-two. Both unconstrained and constrained models are estimated for single men, single women and couples, using linear expenditure systems and data from the 1982 Survey of Consumer Finance. Estimation results suggest that constrained labour-supply functions are less elastic than unconstrained functions, that there is no observable difference between the labour-supply behaviour of men and women in a constrained model, and that cross-effects are important in the determination of the labour-supply behaviour of couples. Estimated probabilities of constraint take an average value of (approximately) 80 percent. The simulation of behavioural responses to UI reform using the estimated unconstrained labour-supply functions suggests that large reductions in unemployment might be anticipated. Simulation using the constrained labour-supply functions suggests that responses may be negligible. Welfare evaluation measures are constructed for three ethical perspectives: The first is in the spirit of Utilitarianism; the second is in the spirit of John Rawls' theory of justice; the third is in the spirit of Robert Nozick's entitlement theory. The 'Utilitarian' measure is a mean of order r over the distribution of individual utilities. (Explicit interpersonal comparisons are required for these evaluations.) The 'Rawlsian' measure is a mean of order r over the distribution of individual incomes, censored at the poverty line to focus attention on the worst-off group. The 'Entitlement' measure is a measure of the distance between the distribution of individual costs (premiums) and benefits derived from UI. Three factors are important in the- determination of the welfare-evaluation results. First, the ethical position adopted matters. Both UI reform proposals appear welfare-reducing from a Utilitarian perspective and welfare-improving from an Entitlement perspective. Second, for the Rawlsian and Utilitarian evaluations, the assumed degree of inequality aversion is important. Finally, assumptions made about the nature of unemployment are critical. This is most clearly illustrated by the Rawlsian results. If unemployment is assumed to be the outcome of utility-maximizing choices, then both reform proposals appear welfare-improving: poor people choose to work more and their incomes increase. If unemployment may be the result of demand-side constraints so that increases in employment are not possible, then UI reform merely results in reductions in income for the worst-off group. These results illustrate the importance of both the equity and the efficiency dimensions of a policy evaluation. This thesis demonstrates the feasibility of conducting an objective policy evaluation which pays attention to both.

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