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Disentangling Intertemporal Substitution and Risk Aversion under the Expected Utility Theorem

  • Lau, Chi-Lei Oscar

A disturbing feature of the conventional objective function for intertemporal decisions under uncertainty is that the agent's attitudes toward intertemporal substitution and risk aversion are entangled. This paper shows that, in contrast to common perception, the two attitudes can be completely disentangled under the expected utility theorem (EUT) by modeling each of them successively in two steps. The conventional form is nested as a special case where the functions describing the two attitudes are identical. The proposed framework requires only the standard axioms of the EUT, in addition to a regulatory assumption. It is flexible in accommodating different combinations of the two attitudes, indifferent to the timing of resolution of uncertainty, intuitive to interpret, and extendable to multiple goods. The objective function under the proposed framework is time inconsistent according to Strotz's (1955) definition. I argue that Strotz's notion of time consistency is misguided. It is constructed based on a priori assumption that the agent should continuously forget history as time progresses. But this means the agent is either chronically amnesiac or self-contradictory. To be truly consistent, the agent should have one and only one objective function, determined at birth, throughout his entire life. As history unfolds, the agent updates his information set, but not his objective function.

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File URL: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/11482/1/MPRA_paper_11482.pdf
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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 11482.

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Date of creation: 06 Nov 2008
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:11482
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  1. Cochrane, John H. & Campbell, John, 1999. "By Force of Habit: A Consumption-Based Explanation of Aggregate Stock Market Behavior," Scholarly Articles 3119444, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Martin J. Beckmann, 1959. "A Dynamic Programming Model of the Consumption Function," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 68, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  4. G. Constantinides, 1990. "Habit formation: a resolution of the equity premium puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1397, David K. Levine.
  5. Robert B. Barsky & Miles S. Kimball & F. Thomas Juster & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1995. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Working Papers 5213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Barsky, Robert B, et al, 1997. "Preference Parameters and Behavioral Heterogeneity: An Experimental Approach in the Health and Retirement Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 537-79, May.
  7. Loewenstein, George & Prelec, Drazen, 1992. "Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 573-97, May.
  8. Chris Starmer, 2000. "Developments in Non-expected Utility Theory: The Hunt for a Descriptive Theory of Choice under Risk," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(2), pages 332-382, June.
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