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Individual Learning About Consumption

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

The standard approach to modelling 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 have 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 Friedman (1953) 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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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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  1. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  2. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1797-1855, December.
  3. Christopher D. Carroll, 1996. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 5788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. R. Glenn Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1994. "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," NBER Working Papers 4884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. Gale, Douglas, 1996. "What have we learned from social learning?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 617-628, April.
  7. 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.
  8. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-92, July.
  9. Christopher D. Carroll, 1994. "How does Future Income Affect Current Consumption?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(1), pages 111-147.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Carroll Christopher Dixon, 2001. "Death to the Log-Linearized Consumption Euler Equation! (And Very Poor Health to the Second-Order Approximation)," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-38, April.
  14. 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.
  15. Annamaria Lusardi, 2000. "Explaining Why So Many Households Do Not Save," Working Papers 0001, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  16. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  17. Stephen P. Zeldes, 1989. "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(2), pages 275-298.
  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. McCarthy, Jonathan, 1995. "Imperfect insurance and differing propensities to consume across households," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 301-327, November.
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