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Rational Inattention and Energy Efficiency

  • James M. Sallee

If time and effort are required to accurately ascertain the lifetime value of energy efficiency for a durable good, consumers might rationally ignore energy efficiency. This paper argues that such inattention may be rational in the market for automobiles and home appliances. To do so, it develops a heuristic model of a consumer's decision problem when purchasing an energy consuming durable good in which uncertainty about each good's energy efficiency can be resolved via costly effort. The model indicates under what conditions the consumer will be less likely to undertake this effort. The empirical portion of the paper argues that energy efficiency is often not pivotal to choice. This, along with a simulation of the automobile market, suggests that returns to paying attention to energy may be modest, and analysis of the information readily available to consumers suggests that the costs of being fully informed may be substantial. The paper discusses the implications of rational inattention for public policy and for empirical research on the energy paradox.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19545.

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Date of creation: Oct 2013
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Publication status: published as James M. Sallee, 2014. "Rational Inattention and Energy Efficiency," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 57(3), pages 781 - 820.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19545
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  8. Steven T. Berry, 1994. "Estimating Discrete-Choice Models of Product Differentiation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(2), pages 242-262, Summer.
  9. Ricardo Reis, 2004. "Inattentive Consumers," Working Papers 135, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Discussion Papers in Economics.
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  11. Soren T. Anderson & James M. Sallee, 2009. "Using Loopholes to Reveal the Marginal Cost of Regulation: The Case of Fuel-Economy Standards," Working Papers 0901, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  12. Austin, David & Dinan, Terry, 2005. "Clearing the air: The costs and consequences of higher CAFE standards and increased gasoline taxes," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 562-582, November.
  13. Metcalf, Gilbert E., 1994. "Economics and rational conservation policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(10), pages 819-825, October.
  14. Hutton, R Bruce & Wilkie, William L, 1980. " Life Cycle Cost: A New Form of Consumer Information," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(4), pages 349-60, March.
  15. Heutel, Garth, 2010. "Optimal Policy Instruments for Externality-Producing Durable Goods under Time Inconsistency," Working Papers 10-5, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Economics.
  16. Moorthy, Sridhar & Ratchford, Brian T & Talukdar, Debabrata, 1997. " Consumer Information Search Revisited: Theory and Empirical Analysis," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(4), pages 263-77, March.
  17. Pedro Bordalo & Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer, 2016. "Competition for Attention," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(2), pages 481-513.
  18. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou, 1998. "The Effects of the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards in the US," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 1-33, March.
  19. Kenneth E. Train & Clifford Winston, 2007. "Vehicle Choice Behavior And The Declining Market Share Of U.S. Automakers," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 48(4), pages 1469-1496, November.
  20. Jerry A. Hausman, 1979. "Individual Discount Rates and the Purchase and Utilization of Energy-Using Durables," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 33-54, Spring.
  21. Anderson, Soren T. & Kellogg, Ryan & Sallee, James M., 2013. "What do consumers believe about future gasoline prices?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 383-403.
  22. Allcott, Hunt & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Taubinsky, Dmitry, 2014. "Energy policy with externalities and internalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 72-88.
  23. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213.
  24. James M. Sallee, 2011. "The Surprising Incidence of Tax Credits for the Toyota Prius," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 189-219, May.
  25. Meghan R. Busse & Christopher R. Knittel & Florian Zettelmeyer, 2013. "Are Consumers Myopic? Evidence from New and Used Car Purchases," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 220-56, February.
  26. McNeill, Dennis L & Wilkie, William L, 1979. " Public Policy and Consumer Information: Impact of the New Energy Labels," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 1-11, June.
  27. Dubin, Jeffrey A & McFadden, Daniel L, 1984. "An Econometric Analysis of Residential Electric Appliance Holdings and Consumption," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(2), pages 345-62, March.
  28. Howarth, Richard B. & Andersson, Bo, 1993. "Market barriers to energy efficiency," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 262-272, October.
  29. Carolyn Fischer & Winston Harrington & Ian W.H. Parry, 2007. "Should Automobile Fuel Economy Standards be Tightened?," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 4), pages 1-30.
  30. Sims, Christopher A., 2003. "Implications of rational inattention," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 665-690, April.
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