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Rationality & the Efficiency of Markets. (Steve Lambert). Gekkonomics. “Greed is a vice, a bad attitude, an excessive, single-minded desire for gain.” ( Sandel , 2009, p. 15) Sandel , Michael (2009). Justice. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux . Is greed good? Part 2. (2012).

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“Greed is a vice, a bad attitude, an excessive, single-minded desire for gain.” (Sandel, 2009, p. 15)

Sandel, Michael (2009). Justice. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

is greed good part 2
Is greed good? Part 2


  • “We reason that increased resources and independence from others cause people to prioritize self-interest over others’ welfare and perceive greed as positive and beneficial, which in turn gives rise to increased unethical behavior.
  • “We predict that…upper-class individualsshould demonstrate greater unethical behaviorand that one important reason for this tendency is that upper-class individuals hold more favorable attitudes toward greed.
study 6 of 7
Study 6 (of 7):
  • Participants: play “game of chance”; computer presents them with one side of a six-sided die, ostensibly random; five separate rolls.
    • Told: higher rolls increase chances of winning cash.
    • Asked: report their own total score. In fact, die rolls were predetermined to sum up to 12.
  • Results:
    • Average score: 12.85 (SD=2.78). Cheating: extent score exceeds 12
    • Significant correlations:
      • Social class and attitudes toward greed
      • Cheating and social class
      • Cheating and attitudes toward greed
      • Cheating and {Social class +attitudes toward greed}
    • More favorable attitudes toward greed among members of the upper class explain, in part, their unethical tendencies.
markets and the need for policy
Markets and the need for policy
  • Market: a decentralized collection of buyers and sellers whose interactions determine the allocation of goods through exchange.
markets and the need for policy1
Markets and the need for policy
  • Why study markets?
    • dominant form of economic organization
    • much environmental degradation stems from the actions of consumers and producers
      • Need to understand how these agents react if we want to influence their choices
    • Government regulation: can be costly and intrusive
      • How well can the free market do on its own?
      • IF we decide to intervene: How can we use markets to achieve the highest level of environmental quality for our investment?
sources of pollution e g air pollutants
Sources of pollution: e.g. air pollutants
  • Figure: Major Sources and Health and Environmental Effects of Air Pollutants
  • Consumer-related pollution (“tailpipe”)
  • Producer-related pollution (“smokestack”)

Source: World Resources Institute. August 2008 Monthly Update: Air Pollution's Causes, Consequences and Solutions by Matt Kallman

  • Marginal benefits and demand:
    • [Recall] MB, Marginal benefits (or MWTP): the (maximum) willingness to pay for a one unit increase in quantity of a good.
    • Demand curve: summarizes how much buyers will buy at a given market price (individual or aggregate)
  • Marginal costs and supply:
    • [Recall] MC, Marginal cost: the change in total cost when the quantity is increased or decreased by a unit.
    • Supply curve: summarizes how much sellers will sell at a given market price (individual or aggregate)
market equilibrium
Market equilibrium
  • the combination of quantity and price at which SUPPLY = DEMAND
  • Equilibrium  a stable outcome
  • Welfare measures:
  • Consumer surplus: the difference between (maximum) WTP and actual payment.
  • Producer surplus: the difference between minimum WTA and actual payment.
  • CS+PS = social surplus
getting to equilibrium
Getting to equilibrium
  • If consumers are demanding more than firms are prepared to supply, the shortage will induce the price to rise (those with greater WTP will bid up price).
  • When quantity supplied exceeds quantity demanded price will fall.
  • Adjustments are made until we achieve market clearance (supply = demand) at an equilibrium point.

Excess supply


Excess demand

Image source:


recall efficiency
Recall: Efficiency
  • Kaldor-Hicks efficiency: an allocation in which the collective net benefits are maximized (in which there may be winners and losers, relative to the status quo, but where winners could, in theory, compensate losers for their losses)
  • Pareto efficiency: an allocation in which no one can be made better off without making some else worse off.
when will the market equilibrium be pareto efficient
When will the market equilibrium be (Pareto) efficient?
  • Ifour goal is efficiency, under what conditions can we argue that the government should get out of the way and let the free market determine outcomes?
when will the market equilibrium be pareto efficient some theoretical guidance
When will the market equilibrium be (Pareto) efficient?Some theoretical guidance:
  • First theorem of welfare economics (FTWE): A market economy will result in an (Pareto) efficient resource allocation when:
  • The market is complete: no externalities exist
  • Agents have good information on the quality of goods/services being traded.
  • Markets are competitive: there are no monopoly buyers or sellers (agents are price takers, no one has market power).
  • (…and some other technical conditions but we will focus on the three above.)

2nd TWE:

Arrow (1963)

how economists see the environment fullerton and stavins 1998
“How economists see the environment”Fullerton and Stavins (1998)
  • Myth #1: the market solves all problems
    • FTWE is powerful: greatest good for greatest number will arise without central planning (under certain conditions)
    • But the focus of many economists is on settings in which the conditions identified ARE NOT MET  i.e. “market failure”.
  • Markets are not complete: There are “externalities”
  • Information problems: Firms and consumers do not have good information about the quality of goods and services.
  • Markets not competitive: there exist monopoly buyers or sellers
  • Increasing returns to scale
  • ‘Distortions’ between the costs paid by buyers and the benefits received by sellers (transaction costs, no taxes)
market failure
Market failure

EPA (2010)

OMB: Office of


and Budget

(exec. branch)

EO: “executive order”

(issued by Pres. of U.S.)

the rational model
The Rational Model

Hamlet: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me— nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Rosencrantz: My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.


Act 2,

scene 2,


the rational model1
The rational model
  • Rational choice:
    • Behavior that is consistent with the values and objectives of the decision maker given the available information; objective typically taken to be maximizing net value.
    • “sensible, planned, and consistent” (McFadden, 1999)
  • Believed to describe behavior because of:
    • self-interest
    • tendency of markets to punish foolish behavior
the rational model2
The rational model
  • McFadden (1999) on Homo economicus/ “Chicago-man”
    • convenient, successful, unnecessarily strong, false.
    • “Almost all human behavior has a substantial rational component, at least in the broad sense of rationality. However, there is overwhelming behavioral evidence against a literal interpretation of Chicago-man as a universal model of choice behavior.”



behavioral failure
Behavioral failure?
  • framing effects: how a question is asked (or how a decision is posed) matters
  • the willingness-to-accept (WTA) willingness-to-pay (WTP) gap
  • time inconsistency: make a choice today about tomorrow but then don’t stick to it

Shogren and Taylor (2008)

behavioral economics
Behavioral economics
  • “explores, catalogues, and rationalizes systematicdeviations from rational choice theory.”
  • Deviations or limits on human behavior are driven by (Mullainathan and Thaler, 2000)
    • bounded rationality
    • boundedwillpower
    • bounded self-interest.

Shogren and Taylor (2008)

Bounded rationality:
    • “(P)eople do not have unlimitedabilities to process all the information needed to make rationalchoices.”
    • People have inherent behavioral biases and “userules of thumb and shortcuts to make decisions (Mazzotta and Opaluch 1995).”
  • Bounded self-interest:
    • Reflects the observation that people:
      • care about others, can be selfless
      • value: reciprocity, altruism, paternalism, aversion to inequality

Shogren and Taylor (2008)

Homo economicus

Homer economicus


  • Bounded willpower:
    • “people lack self-controlsometimes—we consume too much, save too little, make rashdecisions, procrastinate, and so on.”
Pessimistic takes (Shogren and Taylor, 2008):
    • “Numerousempirical studies over the last four decades reveal that rationalchoice might, in some circumstances, be a poor guide for economicsin general, and for environmental economics in particular (seeTversky and Kahneman 2000).”
    • “…nature's goods and servicesfrequently lack the active market-like arbitrage needed to encourageconsistent choice (Crocker, Shogren, and Turner 1998).”
  • Optimistic takes:
    • Vernon Smith (2003): identification of behavioral failure follows from a program to deliberately search the “tails of the distributions” for deviations from the standard model.
    • “There are some free lunches in design which takes into account cognitive limitations.” Dan Ariely (2008)

Shogren and Taylor (2008)

deviations from the rational model effective consent rates for organ donation
Deviations from the rational model:Effective consent rates for organ donation

“Do Defaults Save Lives?”

Johnson, Eric J., and Daniel Goldstein. 2003. Science, 302(5649): 1338–39.

Explicit consent/opt-in:

must check box to donate.

People don’t check/don’t donate

Presumed consent/opt-out:

must check box to not donate.

People don’t check/do donate

Dan Ariely: Much of decision-making is determined by designer of decision context.


“…half of all households are at risk for coming up short on retirement money. Why? Partly because people aren't saving enough. Well, new research suggests a novel way to change that….” (NPR, 4/11/12)

Hershfield et al. 2012

Age 107

Age 67

ariel rubinstein on behavioral economics
Ariel Rubinstein on behavioral economics
  • “intuitive and “sexy” results are gladly accepted by behavioral economists without sufficient criticism”

Gneezy and Rustichini (2000): [In the words of C. Camerer]

  • ‘To discourage parents from picking their children up late, a day-care center instituted a fine for each minute that parents arrived late at the center. The fine had the perverse effect of increasing parental lateness.
  • The authors postulated that the fine eliminated the moral disapprobation associated with arriving late and replaced it with a simple monetary cost that some parents decided was worth incurring.
  • Their results show that the effect of price changes can be quite different than in economic theory when behavior has moral components that wages and prices alter.’

Rubinstein, 2006

Rubinstein’s skeptical response to Gneezy and Rustichini (2000):
  • “Israel…is a country where rules are rarely enforced. It is hard for me to believe that teachers would really fine a parent who is ten minutes late. In my experience, any excuse for lateness is accepted.
  • Furthermore, it is impossible for me to imagine that Israeli teachers would have kept even roughly accurate records of late arrivals with noisy parents crowding around the entrance of the school to take home their screaming kids.
  • Therefore, I at least want to know what the procedure was for collecting data. The paper does not provide such details. In correspondence, one of the authors claimed that professional standards had been maintained. Apparently, an RA went to the schools once a week and asked the assistant teacher who was late the previous week. There was no attempt to control the accuracy of the RA’s records. Oddly, I was not allowed to talk with the teachers.
  • “Behavioral Economics…. must become more open-minded and much more critical of itself.”

Four key periods

(Paul Krugman):

The Long Gilded Age

The Great Compression

Middle class America

The great divergence


Saez and Piketty