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Optimal Irrational Behavior

Contrary to the usual presumption that welfare in markets is maximized if consumers behave rationally, we show in a two-period overlapping generations model that there always exists an irrational consumption rule that can weakly improve upon the lifecycle/permanent-income rule in general equilibrium. The market-clearing mechanism introduces a pecuniary externality that individual rational households do not consider when making decisions but a publically shared rule of thumb can exploit. For typical calibrations, the improvement of the welfare of irrational households is robust to the introduction of rational agents. Although transitions to the optimal irrational steady state are not Pareto improving, transitions do exist that will improve a Pareto social welfare function with a sufficiently small generational discount rate. Generalizing to a more realistic lifecycle model, we find that the Save More Tomorrow(TM) (SMarT) Plan, if properly parameterized, can confer higher lifetime utility than the permanent-income rule.

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Paper provided by University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 368.

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Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision: Sep 2008
Handle: RePEc:pit:wpaper:368
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  1. HEIFETZ, Aviad & SHANNON, Chris & SPIEGEL, Yossi, 2003. "What to maximize if you must," CORE Discussion Papers 2003047, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  2. Bullard, James & Feigenbaum, James, 2007. "A leisurely reading of the life-cycle consumption data," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(8), pages 2305-2320, November.
  3. Lawrence Blume & David Easley, 2001. "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? Belief Selection in Complete and Incomplete Markets," Working Papers 01-06-031, Santa Fe Institute.
  4. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
  5. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2003. "Macroeconomic Priorities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 1-14, March.
  6. Todd W Allen & Christopher D Carroll, 2001. "Individual Learning About Consumption," Economics Working Paper Archive 444, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
  7. Philippe Weil, 2008. "Overlapping Generations: the First Jubilee," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/8712, Sciences Po.
  8. James Feigenbaum & Frank N. Caliendo & Emin Gahramanov, 2009. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Economics Series 2009_01, Deakin University, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
  9. Ayse Imrohoroglu & Selahattin Imrohoroglu & Douglas H. Joines, 2003. "Time-Inconsistent Preferences And Social Security," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(2), pages 745-784, May.
  10. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002225, David K. Levine.
  11. Christopher D Carroll & Miles S Kimball, 2001. "Liquidity Constraints and Precautionary Saving," Economics Working Paper Archive 455, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
  12. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save More Tomorrow (TM): Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Employee Saving," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages S164-S187, February.
  13. Skinner, Jonathan, 1988. "Risky income, life cycle consumption, and precautionary savings," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 237-255, September.
  14. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
  15. Findley, T. Scott & Caliendo, Frank N., 2010. "Does it pay to be SMarT?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(03), pages 321-344, July.
  16. Kevin X.D. Huang & Frank Caliendo, 2007. "Rationalizing Seven Consumption-Saving Puzzles in a Unified Framework," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0716, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  17. Feigenbaum, James, 2008. "Information shocks and precautionary saving," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 32(12), pages 3917-3938, December.
  18. James Feigenbaum, 2006. "Precautionary Saving Unfettered," Working Papers 227, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2006.
  19. Balasko, Yves & Shell, Karl, 1980. "The overlapping-generations model, I: The case of pure exchange without money," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 281-306, December.
  20. Feigenbaum, James & Caliendo, Frank N., 2010. "Optimal irrational behavior in continuous time," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 34(10), pages 1907-1922, October.
  21. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1663, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
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