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Optimal Irrational Behavior

Contrary to the usual presumption that welfare is maximized if consumers behave rationally, we show in a two-period overlapping generations model that there always exists a rule of thumb that can weakly improve upon the lifecycle/permanent-income rule in general equilibrium with irrational households. 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 this effect. For typical calibrations, the improvement of the welfare of irrational households is robust to the introduction of rational agents. Generalizing to a more realistic lifecycle model, we find in particular that the Save More Tomorrow Plan can confer higher lifetime utility than the permanent-income rule in general equilibrium.

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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. Aviad Heifetz & Chris Shannon & Yossi Spiegel, 2004. "What to Maximize if You Must," Discussion Papers 1414, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  2. Philippe Weil, 2008. "Overlapping generations: the first jubilee," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/13430, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  3. Skinner, Jonathan, 1988. "Risky income, life cycle consumption, and precautionary savings," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(2), pages 237-255, September.
  4. 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.
  5. James Feigenbaum, 2008. "Optimal Irrational Behavior," Working Papers 368, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Sep 2008.
  6. Lawrence Blume & David Easley, 2006. "If You're so Smart, why Aren't You Rich? Belief Selection in Complete and Incomplete Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(4), pages 929-966, 07.
  7. Todd W. Allen & Christopher D. Carroll, 2001. "Individual Learning About Consumption," NBER Working Papers 8234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002225, David K. Levine.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Ayse Imrohoroglu & Selahattin Imrohoroglu & Douglas H. Joines, 2000. "Time inconsistent preferences and Social Security," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 136, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  12. James Feigenbaum, 2006. "Precautionary Saving Unfettered," Working Papers 227, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2006.
  13. 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.
  14. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2003. "Macroeconomic Priorities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 1-14, March.
  15. 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.
  16. Christopher D. Carroll & Miles S. Kimball, 2001. "Liquidity Constraints and Precautionary Saving," NBER Working Papers 8496, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. 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.
  18. Feigenbaum, James, 2008. "Information shocks and precautionary saving," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 32(12), pages 3917-3938, December.
  19. John Geanakoplos, 2008. "Overlapping Generations Models of General Equilibrium," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1663, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  20. Richard Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2004. "Save more tomorrow: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving," Natural Field Experiments 00337, The Field Experiments Website.
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