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Heterogeneous Risk Preferences and the Welfare Cost of Business Cycles

  • Sam Schulhofer-Wohl

    (Princeton University)

I study the welfare cost of business cycles in a complete-markets economy where some people are more risk averse than others. Relatively more risk-averse people buy insurance against aggregate risk, and relatively less risk-averse people sell insurance. These trades reduce the welfare cost of business cycles for everyone. Indeed, the least risk-averse people benefit from business cycles. Moreover, even infinitely risk-averse people suffer only finite and, in my empirical estimates, very small welfare losses. In other words, when there are complete insurance markets, aggregate fluctuations in consumption are essentially irrelevant not just for the average person -- the surprising finding of Lucas (1987) -- but for everyone in the economy, no matter how risk averse they are. If business cycles matter, it is because they affect productivity or interact with uninsured idiosyncratic risk, not because aggregate risk per se reduces welfare. (Copyright: Elsevier)

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.red.2008.01.003
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Article provided by Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics in its journal Review of Economic Dynamics.

Volume (Year): 11 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (October)
Pages: 761-780

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Handle: RePEc:red:issued:07-133
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  1. Krusell, P & Smith Jr, A-A, 1995. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomic," RCER Working Papers 399, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  2. Robert B. Barsky & Miles S. Kimball & F. Thomas Juster & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1995. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 5213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gadi Barlevy, 2003. "The cost of business cycles under endogenous growth," Working Paper Series WP-03-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  4. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith, Jr., . "On the Welfare Effects of Eliminating Business Cycles," GSIA Working Papers 243, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  5. Barsky, Robert B, et al, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-79, May.
  6. repec:fth:harver:1418 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Richard Blundell & Luigi Pistaferri & Ian Preston, 2008. "Consumption Inequality and Partial Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1887-1921, December.
  8. Fernando Alvarez & Urban J. Jermann, 2004. "Using Asset Prices to Measure the Cost of Business Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1223-1256, December.
  9. Maurice Obstfeld, 1995. "Evaluating Risky Consumption Paths: The Role of Intertemporal Substitutability," NBER Technical Working Papers 0120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. J. Bradford DeLong & Lawrence H. Summers, 1988. "How Does Macroeconomic Policy Affect Output?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 433-494.
  11. Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, 2007. "Heterogeneity, Risk Sharing and the Welfare Costs of Risk," 2007 Meeting Papers 926, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  12. Garey Ramey & Valerie A. Ramey, 1991. "Technology Commitment and the Cost of Economic Fluctuations," NBER Working Papers 3755, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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