No such thing as a perfect hammer: comparing different objective function specifications for optimal control
Abstract Linear-quadratic (LQ) optimization is a fairly standard technique in the optimal control framework. LQ is very well researched, and there are many extensions for more sophisticated scenarios like nonlinear models. Conventionally, the quadratic objective function is taken as a prerequisite for calculating derivative-based solutions of optimal control problems. However, it is not clear whether this framework is as universal as it is considered to be. In particular, we address the question whether the objective function specification and the corresponding penalties applied are well suited in case of a large exogenous shock an economy can experience because of, e.g., the European debt crisis. While one can still efficiently minimize quadratic deviations around policy targets, the economy itself has to go through a period of turbulence with economic indicators, such as unemployment, inflation or public debt, changing considerably over time. We test four alternative designs of the objective function: a least median of squares based approach, absolute deviations, cubic and quartic objective functions. The analysis is performed based on a small-scale model of the Austrian economy and illustrates a certain trade-off between quickly finding an optimal solution using the LQ technique (reaching defined policy targets) and accounting for alternative objectives, such as limiting volatility in economic performance. As an implication, we argue in favor of the considerably more flexible optimization technique based on heuristic methods (such as Differential Evolution), which allows one to minimize various loss function specifications, but also takes additional constraints into account.
Volume (Year): 25 (2017)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
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