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Partial Prescriptions For Decisions With Partial Knowledge

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  • Charles F. Manski

Abstract

This paper concerns the prescriptive function of decision analysis. I suppose that an agent must choose an action yielding welfare that varies with the state of nature. The agent has a welfare function and beliefs, but he does not know the actual state of nature. It is often argued that such an agent should adhere to consistency axioms which imply that behavior can be represented as maximization of expected utility. However, our agent is not concerned the consistency of his behavior across hypothetical choice sets. He only wants to make a reasonable choice from the choice set that he actually faces. Hence, I reason that prescriptions for decision making should respect actuality. That is, they should promote welfare maximization in the choice problem the agent actually faces. I conclude that any decision rule respecting weak and stochastic dominance should be considered rational. Expected utility maximization respects dominance, but it has no special status from the actualist perspective. Moreover, the basic consistency axiom of transitivity has a clear normative foundation only when actions are ordered by dominance.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14396.

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Date of creation: Oct 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14396

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  1. Charles F. Manski, 2005. "Search Profiling with Partial Knowledge of Deterrence," NBER Working Papers 11848, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sen, Amartya K, 1973. "Behaviour and the Concept of Preference," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 40(159), pages 241-59, August.
  3. Blume, Lawrence & Brandenburger, Adam & Dekel, Eddie, 1991. "Lexicographic Probabilities and Choice under Uncertainty," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 61-79, January.
  4. Charles F. Manski, 2004. "Measuring Expectations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(5), pages 1329-1376, 09.
  5. Charles Manski, 2008. "Adaptive partial policy innovation: coping with ambiguity through diversification," CeMMAP working papers CWP10/08, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  6. Hanoch, G & Levy, Haim, 1969. "The Efficiency Analysis of Choices Involving Risk," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(107), pages 335-46, July.
  7. Levy, Haim & Kroll, Yoram, 1978. "Ordering Uncertain Options with Borrowing and Lending," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 33(2), pages 553-74, May.
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