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Article

Anthropometrics is a research program that explores the extent to which economic processes affect human biological processes using height and weight as markers. This agenda differs from health economics in the sense that instead of studying diseases or longevity, macro manifestations of well-being, it focuses on cellular-level processes that determine the extent to which the organism thrives in its socio-economic and epidemiological environment. Thus, anthropometric indicators are used as a proxy measure for the biological standard of living as complements to conventional measures based on monetary units. Using physical stature as a marker, we enabled the profession to learn about the well-being of children and youth for whom market-generated monetary data are not abundant even in contemporary societies. It is now clear that economic transformations such as the onset of the Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth were accompanied by negative externalities that were hitherto unknown. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that the Welfare States of Western and Northern Europe take better care of the biological needs of their citizens than the market-oriented health-care system of the United States. Obesity has reached pandemic proportions in the United States affecting 40% of the population. It is fostered by a sedentary and harried lifestyle, by the diminution in self-control, the spread of labor-saving technologies, and the rise of instant gratification characteristic of post-industrial society. The spread of television and a fast-food culture in the 1950s were watershed developments in this regard that accelerated the process. Obesity poses a serious health risk including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer and its cost reaches $150 billion per annum in the United States or about $1,400 per capita. We conclude that the economy influences not only mortality and health but reaches bone-deep into the cellular level of the human organism. In other words, the economy is inextricably intertwined with human biological processes.

Article

The evidence produced by healthcare economic evaluation studies is a key component of any Health Technology Assessment (HTA) process designed to inform resource allocation decisions in a budget-limited context. To improve the quality (and harmonize the generation process) of such evidence, many HTA agencies have established methodological guidelines describing the normative framework inspiring their decision-making process. The information requirements that economic evaluation analyses for HTA must satisfy typically involve the use of complex quantitative syntheses of multiple available datasets, handling mixtures of aggregate and patient-level information, and the use of sophisticated statistical models for the analysis of non-Normal data (e.g., time-to-event, quality of life and costs). Much of the recent methodological research in economic evaluation for healthcare has developed in response to these needs, in terms of sound statistical decision-theoretic foundations, and is increasingly being formulated within a Bayesian paradigm. The rationale for this preference lies in the fact that by taking a probabilistic approach, based on decision rules and available information, a Bayesian economic evaluation study can explicitly account for relevant sources of uncertainty in the decision process and produce information to identify an “optimal” course of actions. Moreover, the Bayesian approach naturally allows the incorporation of an element of judgment or evidence from different sources (e.g., expert opinion or multiple studies) into the analysis. This is particularly important when, as often occurs in economic evaluation for HTA, the evidence base is sparse and requires some inevitable mathematical modeling to bridge the gaps in the available data. The availability of free and open source software in the last two decades has greatly reduced the computational costs and facilitated the application of Bayesian methods and has the potential to improve the work of modelers and regulators alike, thus advancing the fields of economic evaluation of healthcare interventions. This chapter provides an overview of the areas where Bayesian methods have contributed to the address the methodological needs that stem from the normative framework adopted by a number of HTA agencies.

Article

Nikolaus Robalino and Arthur Robson

Modern economic theory rests on the basic assumption that agents’ choices are guided by preferences. The question of where such preferences might have come from has traditionally been ignored or viewed agnostically. The biological approach to economic behavior addresses the issue of the origins of economic preferences explicitly. This approach assumes that economic preferences are shaped by the forces of natural selection. For example, an important theoretical insight delivered thus far by this approach is that individuals ought to be more risk averse to aggregate than to idiosyncratic risk. Additionally the approach has delivered an evolutionary basis for hedonic and adaptive utility and an evolutionary rationale for “theory of mind.” Related empirical work has studied the evolution of time preferences, loss aversion, and explored the deep evolutionary determinants of long-run economic development.

Article

Florian Exler and Michèle Tertilt

Consumer debt is an important means for consumption smoothing. In the United States, 70% of households own a credit card, and 40% borrow on it. When borrowers cannot (or do not want to) repay their debts, they can declare bankruptcy, which provides additional insurance in tough times. Since the 2000s, up to 1.5% of households declared bankruptcy per year. Clearly, the option to default affects borrowing interest rates in equilibrium. Consequently, when assessing (welfare) consequences of different bankruptcy regimes or providing policy recommendations, structural models with equilibrium default and endogenous interest rates are needed. At the same time, many questions are quantitative in nature: the benefits of a certain bankruptcy regime critically depend on the nature and amount of risk that households bear. Hence, models for normative or positive analysis should quantitatively match some important data moments. Four important empirical patterns are identified: First, since 1950, consumer debt has risen constantly, and it amounted to 25% of disposable income by 2016. Defaults have risen since the 1980s. Interestingly, interest rates remained roughly constant over the same time period. Second, borrowing and default clearly depend on age: both measures exhibit a distinct hump, peaking around 50 years of age. Third, ownership of credit cards and borrowing clearly depend on income: high-income households are more likely to own a credit card and to use it for borrowing. However, this pattern was stronger in the 1980s than in the 2010s. Finally, interest rates became more dispersed over time: the number of observed interest rates more than quadrupled between 1983 and 2016. These data have clear implications for theory: First, considering the importance of age, life cycle models seem most appropriate when modeling consumer debt and default. Second, bankruptcy must be costly to support any debt in equilibrium. While many types of costs are theoretically possible, only partial repayment requirements are able to quantitatively match the data on filings, debt levels, and interest rates simultaneously. Third, to account for the long-run trends in debts, defaults, and interest rates, several quantitative theory models identify a credit expansion along the intensive and extensive margin as the most likely source. This expansion is a consequence of technological advancements. Many of the quantitative macroeconomic models in this literature assess welfare effects of proposed reforms or of granting bankruptcy at all. These welfare consequences critically hinge on the types of risk that households face—because households incur unforeseen expenditures, not-too-stringent bankruptcy laws are typically found to be welfare superior to banning bankruptcy (or making it extremely costly) but also to extremely lax bankruptcy rules. There are very promising opportunities for future research related to consumer debt and default. Newly available data in the United States and internationally, more powerful computational resources allowing for more complex modeling of household balance sheets, and new loan products are just some of many promising avenues.

Article

Qiang Fu and Zenan Wu

Competitive situations resembling contests are ubiquitous in modern economic landscape. In a contest, economic agents expend costly effort to vie for limited prizes, and they are rewarded for “getting ahead” of their opponents instead of their absolute performance metrics. Many social, economic, and business phenomena exemplify such competitive schemes, ranging from college admissions, political campaigns, advertising, and organizational hierarchies, to warfare. The economics literature has long recognized contest/tournament as a convenient and efficient incentive scheme to remedy the moral hazard problem, especially when the production process is subject to random perturbation or the measurement of input/output is imprecise or costly. An enormous amount of scholarly effort has been devoted to developing tractable theoretical models, unveiling the fundamentals of the strategic interactions that underlie such competitions, and exploring the optimal design of contest rules. This voluminous literature has enriched basic contest/tournament models by introducing different variations to the modeling, such as dynamic structure, incomplete and asymmetric information, multi-battle confrontations, sorting and entry, endogenous prize allocation, competitions in groups, contestants with alternative risk attitude, among other things.

Article

Chao Gu, Han Han, and Randall Wright

The effects of news (i.e., information innovations) are studied in dynamic general equilibrium models where liquidity matters. As a leading example, news can be announcements about monetary policy directions. In three standard theoretical environments—an overlapping generations model of fiat currency, a new monetarist model accommodating multiple payment methods, and a model of unsecured credit—transition paths are constructed between an announcement and the date at which events are realized. Although the economics is different, in each case, news about monetary policy can induce volatility in financial and other markets, with transitions displaying booms, crashes, and cycles in prices, quantities, and welfare. This is not the same as volatility based on self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g., cyclic or sunspot equilibria) studied elsewhere. Instead, the focus is on the unique equilibrium that is stationary when parameters are constant but still delivers complicated dynamics in simple environments due to information and liquidity effects. This is true even for classically-neutral policy changes. The induced volatility can be bad or good for welfare, but using policy to exploit this in practice seems difficult because outcomes are very sensitive to timing and parameters. The approach can be extended to include news of real factors, as seen in examples.

Article

High-Dimensional Dynamic Factor Models have their origin in macroeconomics, precisely in empirical research on Business Cycles. The central idea, going back to the work of Burns and Mitchell in the years 1940, is that the fluctuations of all the macro and sectoral variables in the economy are driven by a “reference cycle,” that is, a one-dimensional latent cause of variation. After a fairly long process of generalization and formalization, the literature settled at the beginning of the year 2000 on a model in which (1) both n the number of variables in the dataset and T , the number of observations for each variable, may be large, and (2) all the variables in the dataset depend dynamically on a fixed independent of n , a number of “common factors,” plus variable-specific, usually called “idiosyncratic,” components. The structure of the model can be exemplified as follows: x i t = α i u t + β i u t − 1 + ξ i t , i = 1, … , n , t = 1, … , T , (*) where the observable variables x i t are driven by the white noise u t , which is common to all the variables, the common factor, and by the idiosyncratic component ξ i t . The common factor u t is orthogonal to the idiosyncratic components ξ i t , the idiosyncratic components are mutually orthogonal (or weakly correlated). Lastly, the variations of the common factor u t affect the variable x i t dynamically, that is through the lag polynomial α i + β i L . Asymptotic results for High-Dimensional Factor Models, particularly consistency of estimators of the common factors, are obtained for both n and T tending to infinity. Model ( ∗ ) , generalized to allow for more than one common factor and a rich dynamic loading of the factors, has been studied in a fairly vast literature, with many applications based on macroeconomic datasets: (a) forecasting of inflation, industrial production, and unemployment; (b) structural macroeconomic analysis; and (c) construction of indicators of the Business Cycle. This literature can be broadly classified as belonging to the time- or the frequency-domain approach. The works based on the second are the subject of the present chapter. We start with a brief description of early work on Dynamic Factor Models. Formal definitions and the main Representation Theorem follow. The latter determines the number of common factors in the model by means of the spectral density matrix of the vector ( x 1 t x 2 t ⋯ x n t ) . Dynamic principal components, based on the spectral density of the x ’s, are then used to construct estimators of the common factors. These results, obtained in early 2000, are compared to the literature based on the time-domain approach, in which the covariance matrix of the x ’s and its (static) principal components are used instead of the spectral density and dynamic principal components. Dynamic principal components produce two-sided estimators, which are good within the sample but unfit for forecasting. The estimators based on the time-domain approach are simple and one-sided. However, they require the restriction of finite dimension for the space spanned by the factors. Recent papers have constructed one-sided estimators based on the frequency-domain method for the unrestricted model. These results exploit results on stochastic processes of dimension n that are driven by a q -dimensional white noise, with q < n , that is, singular vector stochastic processes. The main features of this literature are described with some detail. Lastly, we report and comment the results of an empirical paper, the last in a long list, comparing predictions obtained with time- and frequency-domain methods. The paper uses a large monthly U.S. dataset including the Great Moderation and the Great Recession.

Article

Land is everywhere: the substratum of our existence. In addition, land is intimately linked to the dual concept of location in human activity. Together, land and location are essential ingredients for the lives of individuals as well as for national economies. In the early 21st century, there exist two different approaches to incorporating land and location into a general equilibrium theory. Dating from the classic work of von Thünen (1826), a rich variety of land-location density models have been developed. In a density model, a continuum of agents is distributed over a continuous location space. Given that simple calculus can be used in the analysis, these density models continue to be the “workhorse” of urban economics and location theory. However, the behavioral meaning of each agent occupying an infinitesimal “density of land” has long been in question. Given this situation, a radically new approach, called the σ -field approach, was developed in the mid-1980s for modeling land in a general equilibrium framework. In this approach: (1) the totality of land, L , is specified as a subset of ℝ 2 , (2) all possible land parcels in L are given by the σ -field of Lebesgue measurable subsets of L , and (3) each of a finite number of agents is postulated to choose one such parcel. Starting with Berliant (1985), increasingly more sophisticated σ -field models of land have been developed. Given these two different approaches to modeling land within a general equilibrium framework, several attempts have thus far been proposed for bridging the gap between them. But while a systematic study of the relationship between density models and σ -field models remains to be completed, the clarification of this relationship could open a new horizon toward a general equilibrium theory of land.

Article

Pao-Li Chang and Wen-Tai Hsu

This article reviews interrelated power-law phenomena in geography and trade. Given the empirical evidence on the gravity equation in trade flows across countries and regions, its theoretical underpinnings are reviewed. The gravity equation amounts to saying that trade flows follow a power law in distance (or geographic barriers). It is concluded that in the environment with firm heterogeneity, the power law in firm size is the key condition for the gravity equation to arise. A distribution is said to follow a power law if its tail probability follows a power function in the distribution’s right tail. The second part of this article reviews the literature that provides the microfoundation for the power law in firm size and reviews how this power law (in firm size) may be related to the power laws in other distributions (in incomes, firm productivity and city size).

Article

Jacob K. Goeree, Philippos Louis, and Jingjing Zhang

Majority voting is the predominant mechanism for collective decision making. It is used in a broad range of applications, spanning from national referenda to small group decision making. It is simple, transparent, and induces voters to vote sincerely. However, it is increasingly recognized that it has some weaknesses. First of all, majority voting may lead to inefficient outcomes. This happens because it does not allow voters to express the intensity of their preferences. As a result, an indifferent majority may win over an intense minority. In addition, majority voting suffers from the “tyranny of the majority,” i.e., the risk of repeatedly excluding minority groups from representation. A final drawback is the “winner-take-all” nature of majority voting, i.e., it offers no compensation for losing voters. Economists have recently proposed various alternative mechanisms that aim to produce more efficient and more equitable outcomes. These can be classified into three different approaches. With storable votes, voters allocate a budget of votes across several issues. Under vote trading, voters can exchange votes for money. Under linear voting or quadratic voting, voters can buy votes at a linear or quadratic cost respectively. The properties of different alternative mechanisms can be characterized using theoretical modeling and game theoretic analysis. Lab experiments are used to test theoretical predictions and evaluate their fitness for actual use in applications. Overall, these alternative mechanisms hold the promise to improve on majority voting but have their own shortcomings. Additional theoretical analysis and empirical testing is needed to produce a mechanism that robustly delivers efficient and equitable outcomes.

Article

Economists have long regarded healthcare as a unique and challenging area of economic activity on account of the specialized knowledge of healthcare professionals (HCPs) and the relatively weak market mechanisms that operate. This places a consideration of how motivation and incentives might influence performance at the center of research. As in other domains economists have tended to focus on financial mechanisms and when considering HCPs have therefore examined how existing payment systems and potential alternatives might impact on behavior. There has long been a concern that simple arrangements such as fee-for-service, capitation, and salary payments might induce poor performance, and that has led to extensive investigation, both theoretical and empirical, on the linkage between payment and performance. An extensive and rapidly expanded field in economics, contract theory and mechanism design, had been applied to study these issues. The theory has highlighted both the potential benefits and the risks of incentive schemes to deal with the information asymmetries that abound in healthcare. There has been some expansion of such schemes in practice but these are often limited in application and the evidence for their effectiveness is mixed. Understanding why there is this relatively large gap between concept and application gives a guide to where future research can most productively be focused.

Article

The indeterminacy school in macroeconomics exploits the fact that macroeconomic models often display multiple equilibria to understand real-world phenomena. There are two distinct phases in the evolution of its history. The first phase began as a research agenda at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and at CEPREMAP in Paris in the early 1980s. This phase used models of dynamic indeterminacy to explain how shocks to beliefs can temporarily influence economic outcomes. The second phase was developed at the University of California Los Angeles in the 2000s. This phase used models of incomplete factor markets to explain how shocks to beliefs can permanently influence economic outcomes. The first phase of the indeterminacy school has been used to explain volatility in financial markets. The second phase of the indeterminacy school has been used to explain periods of high persistent unemployment. The two phases of the indeterminacy school provide a microeconomic foundation for Keynes’ general theory that does not rely on the assumption that prices and wages are sticky.

Article

Dimitris Korobilis and Davide Pettenuzzo

Bayesian inference in economics is primarily perceived as a methodology for cases where the data are short, that is, not informative enough in order to be able to obtain reliable econometric estimates of quantities of interest. In these cases, prior beliefs, such as the experience of the decision-maker or results from economic theory, can be explicitly incorporated to the econometric estimation problem and enhance the desired solution. In contrast, in fields such as computing science and signal processing, Bayesian inference and computation have long been used for tackling challenges associated with ultra high-dimensional data. Such fields have developed several novel Bayesian algorithms that have gradually been established in mainstream statistics, and they now have a prominent position in machine learning applications in numerous disciplines. While traditional Bayesian algorithms are powerful enough to allow for estimation of very complex problems (for instance, nonlinear dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models), they are not able to cope computationally with the demands of rapidly increasing economic data sets. Bayesian machine learning algorithms are able to provide rigorous and computationally feasible solutions to various high-dimensional econometric problems, thus supporting modern decision-making in a timely manner.

Article

In recent decades, there has been a dramatic proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) between countries that, while legal, contradict the non-discrimination principle of the world trade system. This raises various issues, both theoretical and empirical, regarding the evolution of trade policy within the world trade system and the welfare implications for PTA members and non-members. The survey starts with the Kemp-Wan-Ohyama and Panagariya-Krishna analyses in the literature that theoretically show PTAs can always be constructed so that they (weakly) increase the welfare of members and non-members. Considerable attention is then devoted to recent developments on the interaction between PTAs and multilateral trade liberalization, focusing on two key incentives: an “exclusion incentive” of PTA members and a “free riding incentive” of PTA non-members. While the baseline presumption one should have in mind is that these incentives lead PTAs to inhibit the ultimate degree of global trade liberalization, this presumption can be overturned when dynamic considerations are taken into account or when countries can negotiate the degree of multilateral liberalization rather than facing a binary choice over global free trade. Promising areas for pushing this theoretical literature forward include the growing use of quantitative trade models, incorporating rules of origin and global value chains, modeling the issues surrounding “mega-regional” agreements, and modelling the possibility of exit from PTAs. Empirical evidence in the literature is mixed regarding whether PTAs lead to trade diversion or trade creation, whether PTAs have significant adverse effects on non-member terms-of-trade, whether PTAs lead members to lower external tariffs on non-members, and the role of PTAs in facilitating deep integration among members.

Article

Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) modeling can be structured around six key criticisms leveled at the approach. The first is fundamental and common to macroeconomics and microeconomics alike—namely, problems with rationality and expected utility maximization (EUM). The second is that DSGE models examine fluctuations about an exogenous balanced growth path and there is no role for endogenous growth. The third consists of a number of concerns associated with estimation. The fourth is another fundamental problem with any micro-founded macro-model—that of heterogeneity and aggregation. The fifth and sixth concern focus on the rudimentary nature of earlier models that lacked unemployment and a banking sector. A widely used and referenced example of DSGE modeling is the Smets-Wouters (SW) medium-sized NK model. The model features rational expectations and, in an environment of uncertainty, EUM by households and firms. Preferences are consistent with a nonstochastic exogenous balanced growth path about which the model is solved. The model can be estimated by a Bayesian systems estimation method that involves four types of representative agents (households, final goods producers, trade unions, and intermediate good producers). The latter two produce differentiated labor and goods, respectively, and, in each period of time, consist of a proportion locked into existing contracts and the rest that can reoptimize. There is underemployment but no unemployment. Finally, an arbitrage condition imposed on the return on capital and bonds rules out financial frictions. Thus the model, which has become the gold standard for DSGE macro-modeling, features all six areas of concern. The model can be used as a platform to examine how the current generation of DSGE models has developed in these six dimensions. This modeling framework has also used for macro-economic policy design.

Article

Stock-flow matching is a simple and elegant framework of dynamic trade in differentiated goods. Flows of entering traders match and exchange with the stocks of previously unsuccessful traders on the other side of the market. A buyer or seller who enters a market for a single, indivisible good such as a job or a home does not experience impediments to trade. All traders are fully informed about the available trading options; however, each of the available options in the stock on the other side of the market may or may not be suitable. If fortunate, this entering trader immediately finds a viable option in the stock of available opportunities and trade occurs straightaway. If unfortunate, none of the available opportunities suit the entrant. This buyer or seller now joins the stocks of unfulfilled traders who must wait for a new, suitable partner to enter. Three striking empirical regularities emerge from this microstructure. First, as the stock of buyers does not match with the stock of sellers, but with the flow of new sellers, the flow of new entrants becomes an important explanatory variable for aggregate trading rates. Second, the traders’ exit rates from the market are initially high, but if they fail to match quickly the exit rates become substantially slower. Third, these exit rates depend on different variables at different phases of an agent’s stay in the market. The probability that a new buyer will trade successfully depends only on the stock of sellers in the market. In contrast, the exit rate of an old buyer depends positively on the flow of new sellers, negatively on the stock of old buyers, and is independent of the stock of sellers. These three empirical relationships not only differ from those found in the familiar search literature but also conform to empirical evidence observed from unemployment outflows. Moreover, adopting the stock-flow approach enriches our understanding of output dynamics, employment flows, and aggregate economic performance. These trading mechanics generate endogenous price dispersion and price dynamics—prices depend on whether the buyer or the seller is the recent entrant, and on how many viable traders were waiting for the entrant, which varies over time. The stock-flow structure has provided insights about housing, temporary employment, and taxicab markets.

Article

Mostafa Beshkar and Eric Bond

International trade agreements have played a significant role in the reduction of trade barriers that has taken place since the end of World War II. One objective of the theoretical literature on trade agreements is to address the question of why bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, rather than simple unilateral actions by individual countries, have been required to reduce trade barriers. The predominant explanation has been the terms of trade theory, which argues that unilateral tariff policies lead to a prisoner’s dilemma due to the negative effect of a country’s tariffs on its trading partners. Reciprocal tariff reductions through a trade agreement are required to obtain tariff reductions that improve on the noncooperative equilibrium. An alternative explanation, the commitment theory of trade agreements, focuses on the use of external enforcement under a trade agreement to discipline domestic politics. A second objective of the theoretical literature has been to understand the design of trade agreements. Insights from contract theory are used to study various flexibility mechanisms that are embodied in trade agreements. These mechanisms include contingent protection measures such as safeguards and antidumping, and unilateral flexibility through tariff overhang. The literature also addresses the enforcement of agreements in the absence of an external enforcement mechanism. The theories of the dispute settlement process of the WTO portray it as an institution with an informational role that facilitates the coordination among parties with incomplete information about the states of the world and the nature of the actions taken by each signatory. Finally, the literature examines whether the ability to form preferential trade agreements serves as a stumbling block or a building block to multilateral liberalization.