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Is Addiction "Rational"? Theory and Evidence

  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Botond Koszegi

A standard model of addictive process is Becker and Murphy's rational addiction' model, which has the key empirical prediction that the current consumption of addictive goods should respond to future prices, and the key normative prediction that the optimal government regulation of addictive goods should depend only on their interpersonal externalities. While a variety of previous studies have supported this empirical contention, we demonstrate that these results are very fragile. We propose a new empirical test for the case of cigarettes, using state excise tax increases that have been legislatively enacted but are not yet effective, and monthly data on consumption. We find strong evidence that consumption drops when there are announced future tax increases, providing more robust support for the key empirical prediction of the Becker and Murphy model. But we also propose a new formulation of this model that makes only one change, albeit a major one: the incorporation of the inconsistent preferences which are likely to provide a much better platform for understanding the smoking decision. We find that with these preferences the model continues to yield the predictions for forward-looking behavior that have been tested by others and by ourselves. But it has strikingly different normative implications, as with these preferences optimal government policy should depend as well on the internalities' imposed by smokers on themselves. We estimate that the optimal tax per pack of cigarettes should be at least one dollar higher under our formulation than in the rational addiction case.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7507.

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Date of creation: Jan 2000
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Gruber, Jonathan and Botond Koszegi. "Is Addiction 'Rational'? Theory And Evidence," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2001, v116(4,Nov), 1261-1303.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7507
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  1. Gary S. Becker & Michael Grossman & Kevin M. Murphy, 1990. "An Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Addiction," NBER Working Papers 3322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Chamberlain, Gary, 1984. "Panel data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: Z. Griliches† & M. D. Intriligator (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 22, pages 1247-1318 Elsevier.
  3. Frank J. Chaloupka & Kenneth E. Warner, 1999. "The Economics of Smoking," NBER Working Papers 7047, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Frank J. Chaloupka, 1990. "Rational Addictive Behavior and Cigarette Smoking," NBER Working Papers 3268, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "The social discount rate," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 137, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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  8. Olekalns, Nilss & Bardsley, Peter, 1996. "Rational Addiction to Caffeine: An Analysis of Coffee Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 1100-1104, October.
  9. Grossman, Michael & Chaloupka, Frank J & Sirtalan, Ismail, 1998. "An Empirical Analysis of Alcohol Addiction: Results from the Monitoring the Future Panels," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(1), pages 39-48, January.
  10. Orphanides, Athanasios & Zervos, David, 1995. "Rational Addiction with Learning and Regret," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(4), pages 739-58, August.
  11. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy, 1986. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 41, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  12. Thaler, Richard, 1981. "Some empirical evidence on dynamic inconsistency," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 201-207.
  13. William N. Evans & Jeanne S. Ringel & Diana Stech, 1999. "Tobacco Taxes and Public Policy to Discourage Smoking," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 1-56 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Showalter, Mark H., 1999. "Firm behavior in a market with addiction: the case of cigarettes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(4), pages 409-427, August.
  15. David I. Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 1998. "Self-Control and Saving for Retirement," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(1), pages 91-196.
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