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UTILITY MAXIMIZATION

AND CHOICE

Complaints about the

Economic Approach

• No real individuals make the kinds of

“lightning calculations” required for utility

maximization

• The utility-maximization model predicts

many aspects of behavior

• Thus, economists assume that people

behave as if they made such calculations

2

Complaints about the

Economic Approach

• The economic model of choice is

extremely selfish because no one has

solely self-centered goals

model prevents individuals from deriving

satisfaction from “doing good”

3

Optimization Principle

• To maximize utility, given a fixed amount

of income to spend, an individual will buy

the goods and services:

– that exhaust his or her total income

– for which the psychic rate of trade-off

between any goods (the MRS) is equal to

the rate at which goods can be traded for

one another in the marketplace

4

A Numerical Illustration

• Assume that the individual’s MRS = 1

– willing to trade one unit of x for one unit of

y

• Suppose the price of x = $2 and the

price of y = $1

• The individual can be made better off

– trade 1 unit of x for 2 units of y in the

marketplace

5

The Budget Constraint

• Assume that an individual has I dollars

to allocate between good x and good y

pxx + pyy I

Quantity of y The individual can afford

If all income is spent

I on y, this is the amount to choose only combinations

py of y that can be purchased of x and y in the shaded

triangle

on x, this is the amount

of x that can be purchased

Quantity of x

I 6

px

First-Order Conditions for a

Maximum

• We can add the individual’s utility map

to show the utility-maximization process

Quantity of y The individual can do better than point A

by reallocating his budget

A

C The individual cannot have point C

B because income is not large enough

U3

Point B is the point of utility

U2

maximization

U1

Quantity of x

7

First-Order Conditions for a

Maximum

• Utility is maximized where the indifference curve is

tangent to the budget constraint

Quantity of y px

slope of budget constraint

py

dy

slope of indifference curve

B dx U constant

px dy

U2

- MRS

py dx U constant

Quantity of x

8

Second-Order Conditions for a

Maximum

• The tangency rule is only necessary but

not sufficient unless we assume that MRS

is diminishing

– if MRS is diminishing, then indifference curves

are strictly convex

• If MRS is not diminishing, then we must

check second-order conditions to ensure

that we are at a maximum

9

Second-Order Conditions for a

Maximum

• The tangency rule is only a necessary

condition

– we need MRS to be diminishing

Quantity of y

There is a tangency at point A,

but the individual can reach a higher

level of utility at point B

B

A

U2

U1

Quantity of x 10

Corner Solutions

• In some situations, individuals’ preferences

may be such that they can maximize utility by

choosing to consume only one of the goods

Quantity of y U1 U2 U3 is not tangent to the budget constraint

Quantity of x

A 11

The n-Good Case

• The individual’s objective is to maximize

utility = U(x1,x2,…,xn)

subject to the budget constraint

I = p1x1 + p2x2 +…+ pnxn

L = U(x1,x2,…,xn) + (I - p1x1 - p2x2 -…- pnxn)

12

The n-Good Case

• First-order conditions for an interior maximum:

L/x1 = U/x1 - p1 = 0

•

•

•

L/xn = U/xn - pn = 0

L/ = I - p1x1 - p2x2 - … - pnxn = 0

13

Implications of First-Order

Conditions

• For any two goods,

U / x i pi

U / x j p j

income

pi

MRS ( x i for x j )

pj

14

Interpreting the Lagrangian

Multiplier

U / x1 U / x 2 U / x n

...

p1 p2 pn

MU x1 MU x2 MU xn

...

p1 p2 pn

of consumption expenditure

– the marginal utility of income

15

Interpreting the Lagrangian

Multiplier

• At the margin, the price of a good

represents the consumer’s evaluation of

the utility of the last unit consumed

– how much the consumer is willing to pay

for the last unit

MU xi

pi

16

Corner Solutions

• When corner solutions are involved, the

first-order conditions must be modified:

L/xi = U/xi - pi 0 (i = 1,…,n)

• If L/xi = U/xi - pi < 0, then xi = 0

• This means that

U / x i MU xi

pi

– any good whose price exceeds its marginal

value to the consumer will not be purchased

17

Cobb-Douglas Demand

Functions

• Cobb-Douglas utility function:

U(x,y) = xy

• Setting up the Lagrangian:

L = xy + (I - pxx - pyy)

• First-order conditions:

L/x = x-1y - px = 0

L/y = xy-1 - py = 0

L/ = I - pxx - pyy = 0 18

Cobb-Douglas Demand

Functions

• First-order conditions imply:

y/x = px/py

• Since + = 1:

pyy = (/)pxx = [(1- )/]pxx

I = pxx + [(1- )/]pxx = (1/)pxx

19

Cobb-Douglas Demand

Functions

• Solving for x yields

I

x*

px

• Solving for y yields

I

y*

py

• The individual will allocate percent of

his income to good x and percent of his

income to good y

20

Cobb-Douglas Demand

Functions

• The Cobb-Douglas utility function is

limited in its ability to explain actual

consumption behavior

– the share of income devoted to particular

goods often changes in response to

changing economic conditions

• A more general functional form might be

more useful in explaining consumption

decisions 21

CES Demand

• Assume that = 0.5

U(x,y) = x0.5 + y0.5

• Setting up the Lagrangian:

L = x0.5 + y0.5 + (I - pxx - pyy)

• First-order conditions:

L/x = 0.5x -0.5 - px = 0

L/y = 0.5y -0.5 - py = 0

L/ = I - pxx - pyy = 0

22

CES Demand

• This means that

(y/x)0.5 = px/py

• Substituting into the budget constraint,

we can solve for the demand functions

I I

x* y*

px py

px [1 ] py [1 ]

py px

23

CES Demand

• In these demand functions, the share of

income spent on either x or y is not a

constant

– depends on the ratio of the two prices

y), the smaller will be the share of

income spent on x (or y)

24

CES Demand

• If = -1,

U(x,y) = -x -1 - y -1

• First-order conditions imply that

y/x = (px/py)0.5

• The demand functions are

I I

x* y*

py 0 .5

p

0 .5

px 1 py 1 x

px py

25

CES Demand

• If = -,

U(x,y) = Min(x,4y)

• The person will choose only combinations

for which x = 4y

• This means that

I = pxx + pyy = pxx + py(x/4)

I = (px + 0.25py)x

26

CES Demand

• Hence, the demand functions are

I

x*

px 0.25 py

I

y*

4 p x py

27

Indirect Utility Function

• It is often possible to manipulate first-

order conditions to solve for optimal

values of x1,x2,…,xn

• These optimal values will depend on the

prices of all goods and income

x*1 = x1(p1,p2,…,pn,I)

x*2 = x2(p1,p2,…,pn,I)

•

•

•

x*n = xn(p1,p2,…,pn,I)

28

Indirect Utility Function

• We can use the optimal values of the xs

to find the indirect utility function

maximum utility = U(x*1,x*2,…,x*n)

• Substituting for each x*i, we get

maximum utility = V(p1,p2,…,pn,I)

• The optimal level of utility will depend

indirectly on prices and income

– if either prices or income were to change,

the maximum possible utility will change

29

The Lump Sum Principle

• Taxes on an individual’s general

purchasing power are superior to taxes

on a specific good

– an income tax allows the individual to

decide freely how to allocate remaining

income

– a tax on a specific good will reduce an

individual’s purchasing power and distort

his choices

30

The Lump Sum Principle

• A tax on good x would shift the utility-

maximizing choice from point A to point B

Quantity of y

B A

U1

U2

Quantity of x

31

The Lump Sum Principle

• An income tax that collected the same

amount would shift the budget constraint

to I’

Quantity of y Utility is maximized now at point

I’ C on U3

A

B C

U3 U1

U2

Quantity of x

32

Indirect Utility and the

Lump Sum Principle

• If the utility function is Cobb-Douglas with

= = 0.5, we know that

I I

x* y*

2 px 2 py

• So the indirect utility function is

I

V ( px , py , I ) (x*) (y*)

0.5 0.5

2 px0.5 py0.5

33

Indirect Utility and the

Lump Sum Principle

• If a tax of $1 was imposed on good x

– the individual will purchase x*=2

– indirect utility will fall from 2 to 1.41

• An equal-revenue tax will reduce income to

$6

– indirect utility will fall from 2 to 1.5

34

Indirect Utility and the

Lump Sum Principle

• If the utility function is fixed proportions

with U = Min(x,4y), we know that

I I

x* y*

px 0.25 py 4 p x py

• So the indirect utility function is

I

V ( px , py , I ) Min( x *,4 y *) x*

px 0.25 py

4 I

4y *

4 px py px 0.25 py 35

Indirect Utility and the

Lump Sum Principle

• If a tax of $1 was imposed on good x

– indirect utility will fall from 4 to 8/3

• An equal-revenue tax will reduce income to

$16/3

– indirect utility will fall from 4 to 8/3

• Since preferences are rigid, the tax on x

does not distort choices

36

Expenditure Minimization

• Dual minimization problem for utility

maximization

– allocating income in such a way as to achieve

a given level of utility with the minimal

expenditure

– this means that the goal and the constraint

have been reversed

37

Expenditure Minimization

• Point A is the solution to the dual problem

Quantity of y

individual to reach U1 but is not the

minimal expenditure required to do so

A

Expenditure level E1 is too small to achieve U1

U1

Quantity of x

38

Expenditure Minimization

• The individual’s problem is to choose x1,x2,

…,xn to minimize

total expenditures = E = p1x1 + p2x2 +…+ pnxn

subject to the constraint

utility = U1 = U(x1,x2,…,xn)

• The optimal amounts of x1,x2,…,xn will

depend on the prices of the goods and the

required utility level

39

Expenditure Function

• The expenditure function shows the

minimal expenditures necessary to achieve

a given utility level for a particular set of

prices

minimal expenditures = E(p1,p2,…,pn,U)

• The expenditure function and the indirect

utility function are inversely related

– both depend on market prices but involve

different constraints

40

Two Expenditure Functions

• The indirect utility function in the two-good,

Cobb-Douglas case is

I

V ( p x , py , I )

2 px0.5 py0.5

income (expenditure), we will have the

expenditure function

E(px,py,U) = 2px0.5py0.5U

41

Two Expenditure Functions

• For the fixed-proportions case, the indirect

utility function is

I

V ( p x , py , I )

px 0.25 py

expenditures, we will have the

expenditure function

E(px,py,U) = (px + 0.25py)U

42

Properties of Expenditure

Functions

• Homogeneity

– a doubling of all prices will precisely double

the value of required expenditures

• homogeneous of degree one

• Nondecreasing in prices

E/pi 0 for every good, i

• Concave in prices

43

Concavity of Expenditure

Function

At p*1, the person spends E(p*1,…)

If he continues to buy

the same set of goods as

p*1 changes, his

E(p1,…) Epseudo

expenditure function

would be Epseudo

E(p1,…)

E(p*1,…)

Since his consumption

pattern will likely change,

actual expenditures will

be less than Epseudo such

as E(p1,…)

p*1 p1

44

Important Points to Note:

• To reach a constrained maximum, an

individual should:

– spend all available income

– choose a commodity bundle such that the

MRS between any two goods is equal to

the ratio of the goods’ prices

• the individual will equate the ratios of the

marginal utility to price for every good that is

actually consumed

45

Important Points to Note:

• Tangency conditions are only first-

order conditions

– the individual’s indifference map must

exhibit diminishing MRS

– the utility function must be strictly quasi-

concave

46

Important Points to Note:

• Tangency conditions must also be

modified to allow for corner solutions

– the ratio of marginal utility to price will be

below the common marginal benefit-

marginal cost ratio for goods actually

bought

47

Important Points to Note:

• The individual’s optimal choices

implicitly depend on the parameters of

his budget constraint

– choices observed will be implicit functions

of prices and income

– utility will also be an indirect function of

prices and income

48

Important Points to Note:

• The dual problem to the constrained

utility-maximization problem is to

minimize the expenditure required to

reach a given utility target

– yields the same optimal solution as the

primary problem

– leads to expenditure functions in which

spending is a function of the utility target

and prices

49

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