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Requiem For The Representative Consumer? Aggregate Implications Of Microeconomic Consumption Behavior

  • Christopher Carroll

    (Johns Hopkins)

Macroeconomists pursuing microfoundations for aggregate consumption have generally adopted one of two approaches: either to model microeconomic consumption behavior carefully and then to aggregate, or to thoroughly understand the behavior of a `representative consumer' in general equilibrium, then to introduce microeconomic risk and heterogeneity. The broad conclusion from the `bottom up' approach has been that precautionary saving and microeconomic heterogeneity can profoundly change behavior (Stephen P. Zeldes (1989); Angus S. Deaton (1991); Christopher D. Carroll (1992)). The broad conclusion from the `top down' approach has been that precautionary saving is of little importance in determining the aggregate capital stock (S. Rao Aiyagari (1994); Per Krusell and Anthony A. Smith (1998)), leading some economists to conclude that heterogeneity is unimportant for macroeconomic purposes. This paper shows that while general equilibrium effects do imply that the aggregate magnitude of precautionary saving is modest, nevertheless when a model with uninsurable idiosyncratic risk is modified so that it can match the key micro facts, it produces behavior very different in important respects from that produced by the representative agent economy. This leads to the conclusion that for many purposes, the representative consumer model should be abandoned in favor of a model which matches key microeconomic facts.

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Paper provided by Society for Computational Economics in its series Computing in Economics and Finance 2000 with number 320.

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Date of creation: 05 Jul 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:sce:scecf0:320
Contact details of provider: Postal: CEF 2000, Departament d'Economia i Empresa, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ramon Trias Fargas, 25,27, 08005, Barcelona, Spain
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  1. Carroll, Christopher D & Kimball, Miles S, 1996. "On the Concavity of the Consumption Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(4), pages 981-92, July.
  2. Cochrane, John H, 1991. "A Simple Test of Consumption Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 957-76, October.
  3. Alan P. Kirman, 1992. "Whom or What Does the Representative Individual Represent?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 117-136, Spring.
  4. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
  5. Krusell, P & Smith Jr, A-A, 1995. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomic," RCER Working Papers 399, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  6. McCarthy, Jonathan, 1995. "Imperfect insurance and differing propensities to consume across households," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 301-327, November.
  7. Orazio Attanasio & Steven J. Davis, 1994. "Relative Wage Movements and the Distribution of Consumption," NBER Working Papers 4771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
  9. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
  10. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
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  12. Tullio Jappelli & Luigi Pistaferri, 2004. "Intertemporal choice and consumption mobility," 2004 Meeting Papers 195, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  13. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1993. "Uninsured idiosyncratic risk and aggregate saving," Working Papers 502, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  14. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  15. John Y. Campbell & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1989. "Consumption, Income and Interest Rates: Reinterpreting the Time Series Evidence," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1989, Volume 4, pages 185-246 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:112:y:1997:i:2:p:443-77 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  18. Stephen Zeldes, . "Optimal Consumption with Stochastic Income: Deviations from Certainty Equivalence," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 20-86, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  19. Robert E. Hall, 1987. "Consumption," NBER Working Papers 2265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Huggett, Mark, 1996. "Wealth distribution in life-cycle economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 469-494, December.
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