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Consumer Durables and the Optimality of Usually Doing Nothing

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  • Avner Bar-Ilan
  • Alan S. Blinder

Abstract

This paper develops a simple but important point which is often overlooked: It is quite possible that the best policy for a rational, optimizing agent is to do nothing for long periods of time--even if new, relevant information becomes available. We illustrate this point using the market for durable goods. Lumpy costs in durables transactions lead consumers to choose a finite range, not just a single level, for their durables consumption. The boundaries of this range change with new information and, in general, obey the permanent income hypothesis. However, as long as the durable stock is within the chosen region, the consumer will not change her stock. Hence individuals will make durable transactions infrequently and their consumption can differ substantially from the prediction of the strict PIH. Such microeconomic behavior means that aggregate data cannot be generated by a representative agent; explicit aggregation is required. By doing that, we showed that time series of durable expenditures should be divided to two separate series: One on the average expenditure per purchase and the other on the number of transactions. The predictions of the PIH hold for the former, but not for the latter. For example, the short-run elasticity of the number of purchases with respect to permanent income Is much larger than one for plausible parameter values. We put our theory to a battery of empirical tests. Although the tests are by no means always consistent with the theory, most empirical results are in line with our predictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Avner Bar-Ilan & Alan S. Blinder, 1988. "Consumer Durables and the Optimality of Usually Doing Nothing," NBER Working Papers 2488, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2488
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hall, Robert E, 1978. "Stochastic Implications of the Life Cycle-Permanent Income Hypothesis: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 971-987, December.
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    3. Abel, Andrew B., 1980. "Empirical investment equations : An integrative framework," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 39-91, January.
    4. John Y. Campbell & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1987. "Are Output Fluctuations Transitory?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 102(4), pages 857-880.
    5. George M. Constantinides, 2005. "Capital Market Equilibrium with Transaction Costs," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Theory Of Valuation, chapter 7, pages 207-227 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    6. Blinder, Alan S, 1981. "Temporary Income Taxes and Consumer Spending," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(1), pages 26-53, February.
    7. Campbell, John Y, 1987. "Does Saving Anticipate Declining Labor Income? An Alternative Test of the Permanent Income Hypothesis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(6), pages 1249-1273, November.
    8. Andrew S. Caplin & Daniel F. Spulber, 1987. "Menu Costs and the Neutrality of Money," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 102(4), pages 703-725.
    9. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1985. "Can Small Deviations from Rationality Make Significant Differences to Economic Equilibria?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 708-720, September.
    10. Alan S. Blinder, 1981. "Retail Inventory Behavior and Business Fluctuations," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 12(2), pages 443-520.
    11. Flavin, Marjorie A, 1981. "The Adjustment of Consumption to Changing Expectations about Future Income," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 974-1009, October.
    12. Friedman, Benjamin M., 1979. "Optimal expectations and the extreme information assumptions of `rational expectations' macromodels," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 23-41, January.
    13. George A. Akerlof, 1970. "The Market for "Lemons": Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500.
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    Cited by:

    1. Eberly, Janice C, 1994. "Adjustment of Consumers' Durables Stocks: Evidence from Automobile Purchases," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(3), pages 403-436, June.
    2. Orazio P. Attanasio, 1995. "Consumer Durables and Inertial Behavior: Estimation and Aggregation of (S,s) Rules," NBER Working Papers 5282, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Blinder, Alan S, 1988. "The Challenge of High Unemployment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 1-15, May.
    4. Arrondel, L. & Savignac, F., 2009. "Stockholding: Does housing wealth matter?," Working papers 266, Banque de France.
    5. Luc Arrondel & André Masson, 1989. "Déterminants individuels de la composition du patrimoine : France 1980," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 40(3), pages 441-502.
    6. Bar-Ilan, Avner, 1990. "Monopolistic Competition and the Benefit of Inflation over Deflation," Foerder Institute for Economic Research Working Papers 275484, Tel-Aviv University > Foerder Institute for Economic Research.

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