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Evaluating Risky Consumption Paths: The Role of Intertemporal Substitutability

  • Maurice Obstfeld

In dynamic stochastic welfare comparisons, a failure clearly to distinguish between risk aversion and intertemporal substitutability can result in misleading assessments of the impact of risk aversion on the welfare costs of consumption-risk changes. The problem arises in any setting in which uncertainty is propagated over time, notably, but not exclusively, in economies with stochastic consumption trends. Regardless of the preference setup adopted, an increase in risk aversion amplifies the per-period costs of risks. The weights consumers use to cumulate the per-period costs of risks with persistent effects should, however, depend on intertemporal substitutability as well as on risk aversion. Under time-separable expected-utility preferences, an increase in the period utility function's curvature therefore alters the welfare effect of risk for reasons that in part are unrelated to risk aversion.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Technical Working Papers with number 0120.

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Date of creation: Jan 1995
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as European Economic Review, August 1994
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberte:0120
Note: EFG
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  1. John Y. Campbell & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1989. "Consumption, Income, and Interest Rates: Reinterpreting the Time Series Evidence," NBER Working Papers 2924, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Imrohoroglu, A. & Prescott, E.C., 1991. "Seigniorage As a Tax : A Quantitative Evaluation," Papers 91-3, Southern California - School of Business Administration.
  3. Harold L. Cole & Maurice Obstfeld, 1989. "Commodity Trade and International Risk Sharing: How Much Do Financial Markets Matter?," NBER Working Papers 3027, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1989. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: A Theoretical Framework," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(4), pages 937-69, July.
  5. Merton, Robert C., 1971. "Optimum consumption and portfolio rules in a continuous-time model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 373-413, December.
  6. repec:fth:harver:1435 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Kenneth L. Judd, 1991. "Minimum weighted residual methods for solving aggregate growth models," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 49, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  8. Shmuel Kandel & Robert F. Stambaugh, 1991. "Asset Returns and Intertemporal Preferences," NBER Working Papers 3633, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Dixit, Avinash & Rob, Rafael, 1994. "Risk-sharing, adjustment, and trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(3-4), pages 263-287, May.
  10. Robert E. Hall, 1981. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," NBER Working Papers 0720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Imrohoruglu, Ayse, 1989. "Cost of Business Cycles with Indivisibilities and Liquidity Constraints," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1364-83, December.
  12. Kocherlakota, Narayana R, 1990. " Disentangling the Coefficient of Relative Risk Aversion from the Elasticity of Intertemporal Substitution: An Irrelevance Result," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 45(1), pages 175-90, March.
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