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Individual Learning About Consumption

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  • Allen, Todd W.
  • Carroll, Christopher D.

Abstract

The standard approach to modeling consumption/saving problems is to assume that the decisionmaker is solving a dynamic stochastic optimization problem. However, under realistic descriptions of utility and uncertainty, the optimal consumption/saving decision is so difficult that only recently have economists managed to find solutions, using numerical methods that require previously infeasible amounts of computation. Yet, empirical evidence suggests that household behavior conforms fairly well with the prescriptions of the optimal solution, raising the question of how average households can solve problems that economists, until recently, could not. This paper examines whether consumers might be able to find a reasonably good rule-of-thumb approximation to optimal behavior by trial-and-error methods, as Milton Friedman proposed long ago. We find that such individual learning methods can reliably identify reasonably good rules of thumb only if the consumer is able to spend absurdly large amounts of time searching for a good rule.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Macroeconomic Dynamics.

Volume (Year): 5 (2001)
Issue (Month): 02 (April)
Pages: 255-271

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Handle: RePEc:cup:macdyn:v:5:y:2001:i:02:p:255-271_01

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References

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  1. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589833.
  2. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  3. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  4. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
  5. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Discussion Papers 96-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  6. Stephen Zeldes, . "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 20-86, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  7. Christopher D. Carroll, 2001. "A Theory of the Consumption Function, with and without Liquidity Constraints," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 23-45, Summer.
  8. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  9. Hubbard, R Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P, 1995. "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(2), pages 360-99, April.
  10. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589826.
  11. Christopher D Carroll, 1997. "Death to the Log-Linearized Consumption euler Equation! (And Very Poor Health to the Second-Order Approximation)," Economics Working Paper Archive 390, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
  12. Kreps,David M. & Wallis,Kenneth F. (ed.), 1997. "Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521589819.
  13. Christopher D. Carroll & Miles S. Kimball, 1995. "On the concavity of the consumption function," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-10, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  14. Lettau, Martin, 1997. "Explaining the facts with adaptive agents: The case of mutual fund flows," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 21(7), pages 1117-1147, June.
  15. McCarthy, Jonathan, 1995. "Imperfect insurance and differing propensities to consume across households," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 301-327, November.
  16. Hubbard, R. Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P., 1994. "The importance of precautionary motives in explaining individual and aggregate saving," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 59-125, June.
  17. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
  18. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
  19. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
  20. Gale, Douglas, 1996. "What have we learned from social learning?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 617-628, April.
  21. Carroll, Christopher D, 1994. "How Does Future Income Affect Current Consumption?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(1), pages 111-47, February.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. James Feigenbaum, 2008. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Working Papers 368, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2008.
  2. Christopher D. Carroll, 2001. "A Theory of the Consumption Function, With and Without Liquidity Constraints (Expanded Version)," NBER Working Papers 8387, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Georges, Christophre & Wallace, John C., 2009. "Learning Dynamics And Nonlinear Misspecification In An Artificial Financial Market," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(05), pages 625-655, November.
  4. Alexander L. Brown & Colin F. Camerer & Zhikang Eric Chua, 2006. "Learning and Visceral Temptation in Dynamic Savings Experiments," Levine's Bibliography 321307000000000048, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Shapiro, Joel & Wu, Stephen, 2011. "Fatalism and savings," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(5), pages 645-651.
  6. Howitt, Peter & Özak, Ömer, 2014. "Adaptive consumption behavior," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 37-61.
  7. T. Parker Ballinger & Michael G. Palumbo & Nathaniel T. Wilcox, 2003. "Precautionary saving and social learning across generations: an experiment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(490), pages 920-947, October.
  8. Emilio Fernandez-Corugedo, 2004. "Consumption Theory," Handbooks, Centre for Central Banking Studies, Bank of England, number 23.
  9. Fazzari, Steven & Ferri, Piero & Greenberg, Edward, 2008. "Cash flow, investment, and Keynes-Minsky cycles," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 65(3-4), pages 555-572, March.
  10. Tokuoka, Kiichi, 2013. "Saving response to unemployment of a sibling," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 58-75.
  11. Isabelle Salle & Pascal Seppecher, 2013. "Social Learning about Consumption," Working Papers hal-00989233, HAL.
  12. Ann L. Owen & Elizabeth J. Jensen, 2008. "Social Learning and Course Choice," International Review of Economic Education, Economics Network, University of Bristol, vol. 7(1), pages 9-35.
  13. Binswanger, Johannes, 2012. "Life cycle saving: Insights from the perspective of bounded rationality," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 605-623.
  14. Binswanger, Johannes, 2011. "Dynamic decision making with feasibility goals: A procedural-rationality approach," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 78(3), pages 219-228, May.

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