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Optimal irrational behavior

  • Feigenbaum, James
  • Caliendo, Frank N.
  • Gahramanov, Emin

Contrary to the usual presumption that welfare in markets is maximized if consumers behave rationally, we show in a two-period overlapping generations model that there always exists an irrational consumption rule that can weakly improve upon the lifecycle/permanent-income rule in general equilibrium. The market-clearing mechanism introduces a pecuniary externality that individual rational households do not consider when making decisions but a publically shared rule of thumb can exploit. For typical calibrations, the improvement of the welfare of irrational households is robust to the introduction of rational agents. Although transitions to the optimal irrational steady state are not Pareto improving, transitions do exist that will improve a Pareto social welfare function with a sufficiently small generational discount rate. Generalizing to a more realistic lifecycle model, we find that the Save More Tomorrow(TM) (SMarT) Plan, if properly parameterized, can confer higher lifetime utility than the permanent-income rule.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 77 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (March)
Pages: 285-303

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:77:y:2011:i:3:p:285-303
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  1. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002225, David K. Levine.
  3. James Feigenbaum, 2008. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Working Papers 368, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2008.
  4. Todd W. Allen & Christopher D. Carroll, 2001. "Individual Learning About Consumption," NBER Working Papers 8234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Heifetz, Aviad & Shannon, Chris & Spiegel, Yossi, 2007. "What to maximize if you must," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 133(1), pages 31-57, March.
  6. James Feigenbaum, 2006. "Precautionary Saving Unfettered," Working Papers 227, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2006.
  7. Jonathan S. Skinner, 1987. "Risky Income, Life Cycle Consumption, and Precautionary Savings," NBER Working Papers 2336, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Christopher D. Carroll & Miles S. Kimball, 2001. "Liquidity Constraints and Precautionary Saving," NBER Working Papers 8496, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1663, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  10. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
  11. James Bullard & James Feigenbaum, 2006. "A leisurely reading of the life-cycle consumption data," Working Papers 2003-017, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  12. Findley, T. Scott & Caliendo, Frank N., 2010. "Does it pay to be SMarT?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(03), pages 321-344, July.
  13. Philippe Weil, 2008. "Overlapping Generations: The First Jubilee," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(4), pages 115-34, Fall.
  14. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
  15. Kevin X.D. Huang & Frank Caliendo, 2007. "Rationalizing Seven Consumption-Saving Puzzles in a Unified Framework," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0716, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  16. Ayse Imrohoroglu & Selahattin Imrohoroglu & Douglas H. Joines, 2003. "Time-Inconsistent Preferences And Social Security," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(2), pages 745-784, May.
  17. Feigenbaum, James, 2008. "Information shocks and precautionary saving," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 32(12), pages 3917-3938, December.
  18. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2003. "Macroeconomic Priorities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 1-14, March.
  19. Lawrence Blume & David Easley, 2006. "If You're so Smart, why Aren't You Rich? Belief Selection in Complete and Incomplete Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(4), pages 929-966, 07.
  20. Feigenbaum, James & Caliendo, Frank N., 2010. "Optimal irrational behavior in continuous time," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 34(10), pages 1907-1922, October.
  21. Balasko, Yves & Shell, Karl, 1980. "The overlapping-generations model, I: The case of pure exchange without money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 281-306, December.
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