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A Sparsity-Based Model of Bounded Rationality

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  • Xavier Gabaix

Abstract

This article defines and analyzes a “sparse max” operator, which is a less than fully attentive and rational version of the traditional max operator. The agent builds (as economists do) a simplified model of the world which is sparse, considering only the variables of first-order importance. His stylized model and his resulting choices both derive from constrained optimization. Still, the sparse max remains tractable to compute. Moreover, the induced outcomes reflect basic psychological forces governing limited attention. The sparse max yields a behavioral version of basic chapters of the microeconomics textbook: consumer demand and competitive equilibrium. I obtain a behavioral version of Marshallian and Hicksian demand, Arrow-Debreu competitive equilibrium, the Slutsky matrix, the Edgeworth box, Roy’s identity, and so on. The Slutsky matrix is no longer symmetric: nonsalient prices are associated with anomalously small demand elasticities. Because the consumer exhibits nominal illusion, in the Edgeworth box, the offer curve is a two-dimensional surface rather than a one-dimensional curve. As a result, different aggregate price levels correspond to materially distinct competitive equilibria, in a similar spirit to a Phillips curve. The Arrow-Debreu welfare theorems typically do not hold. This framework provides a way to assess which parts of basic microeconomics are robust, and which are not, to the assumption of perfect maximization. JEL Codes: D01, D03, D11, D51.

Suggested Citation

  • Xavier Gabaix, 2014. "A Sparsity-Based Model of Bounded Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(4), pages 1661-1710.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:129:y:2014:i:4:p:1661-1710
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qju024
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D42 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Monopoly
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets

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