Dollars and Sense

Kevin Lewis

March 11, 2010

The Paradox of Toil

Gauti Eggertsson
Federal Reserve Bank Working Paper, February 2010

This paper proposes a new paradox: the paradox of toil. Suppose everyone wakes up one day and decides they want to work more. What happens to aggregate employment? This paper shows that, under certain conditions, aggregate employment falls; that is, there is less work in the aggregate because everyone wants to work more. The conditions for the paradox to apply are that the short-term nominal interest rate is zero and there are deflationary pressures and output contraction, much as during the Great Depression in the United States and, perhaps, the 2008 financial crisis in large parts of the world. The paradox of toil is tightly connected to the Keynesian idea of the paradox of thrift. Both are examples of a fallacy of composition.


Does Your Neighbor's Income Affect Your Happiness?

Glenn Firebaugh & Matthew Schroeder
American Journal of Sociology, November 2009, Pages 805-831

The relative income or income status hypothesis implies that people should be happier when they live among the poor. Findings on neighborhood effects suggest, however, that living in a poorer neighborhood reduces, not enhances, a person's happiness. Using data from the American National Election Study linked to income data from the U.S. census, the authors find that Americans tend to be happier when they reside in richer neighborhoods (consistent with neighborhood studies) in poorer counties (as predicted by the relative income hypothesis). Thus it appears that individuals in fact are happier when they live among the poor, as long as the poor do not live too close.


Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction

Christopher Boyce, Gordon Brown & Simon Moore
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Does money buy happiness, or does happiness come indirectly from the higher rank in society that money brings? We tested a rank-income hypothesis, according to which people gain utility from the ranked position of their income within a comparison group. The rank hypothesis contrasts with traditional reference-income hypotheses, which suggest that utility from income depends on comparison to a social reference-group norm. We found that the ranked position of an individual's income predicts general life satisfaction, whereas absolute income and reference income have no effect. Furthermore, individuals weight upward comparisons more heavily than downward comparisons. According to the rank hypothesis, income and utility are not directly linked: Increasing an individual's income will increase his or her utility only if ranked position also increases and will necessarily reduce the utility of others who will lose rank.


Salary and Decision Making: Relationship Between Pay and Focus on Financial Profitability and Prosociality in an Organizational Context

Jennifer Jordan
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, February 2010, Pages 402-420

This investigation examined the relationship between organizationally based financial incentives and a focus on profit vs. prosociality during decision making. Participants were 84 managers from a Fortune 200 corporation. Managers read a vignette containing a dilemma and freely generated issues that they considered important in resolving the dilemma. These responses were coded for their inclusion on 3 dimensions: financial profitability, well-being of nonpowerful stakeholders, and legal culpability. The results demonstrated that salary level predicted an increased focus on the dimension related to financial profitability and decreased focus on the dimensions of prosociality and legal concerns. Implications of these findings and future directions for research are discussed.


Trying Harder and Doing Worse: How Grocery Shoppers Track In-Store Spending

Koert van Ittersum, Joost Pennings & Brian Wansink
Journal of Marketing, March 2010, Pages 90-104

Although almost one in three U.S. households shops on a budget, it remains unclear whether and how shoppers track their in-store spending to stay within those budgets. A field study and two laboratory studies offer four key generalizations about budget shoppers in grocery stores: (1) They predominantly use mental computation strategies to track their in-store spending, (2) they adapt their mental computation strategy to the dominant range of price endings of items in their shopping baskets, (3) those who try to calculate the exact total price of their basket are less accurate than those who estimate the approximate price, and (4) motivated shoppers are less accurate than less motivated shoppers (because they tend to calculate rather than estimate the total basket price). A second field study demonstrates that shoppers who underestimate the total price of their basket are more likely to overspend, leading to negative store satisfaction.

Do Consumers Make Too Much Effort to Save on Cheap Items and Too Little to Save on Expensive Items? Experimental Results and Implications for Business Strategy

Ofer Azar
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming

The article presents an experiment that illustrates a behavior that I denote "relative thinking." Subjects in the experiment revealed the minimal price difference for which they were willing to spend 20 minutes and go to a cheaper store. Five different goods and nine different prices were used in a between-subjects design. Subjects showed striking positive correlation between the good's price and their valuation of their time as it was reflected in their decisions. The experiment suggests that subjects think about both the relative and the absolute price differences, even though according to economic theory they should only consider the absolute price difference. Quantifying the effect suggests that consumers' valuation of their time is approximately proportional to the square root of the price of the good they want to purchase. Studying economics courses seems to mitigate relative thinking. Several alternative explanations for the observed behavior are suggested and discussed, but the conclusion is that only the relative thinking explanation can account for the experimental results. Finally, several implications of relative thinking for business strategy are discussed.


Which Households Think They Save?

Yoonkyung Yuh & Sherman Hanna
Journal of Consumer Affairs, Spring 2010, Pages 70-97

We examine household saving in the context of a prescriptive model. Using Survey of Consumer Finances data sets in the 1995-2004 period, 57% of households reported spending less than income. Many effects in the multivariate analysis are consistent with a prescriptive model. We discuss other effects in terms of possible differences in the ability to plan or the accuracy of reporting by the respondent. Young households are more likely to report saving than older households. Black households are less likely to report saving than white households. Single female households are less likely to report saving than single male households.


You don't want to know what you're missing: When information about forgone rewards impedes dynamic decision making

Ross Otto & Bradley Love
Judgment and Decision Making, February 2010, Pages 1-10

When people learn to make decisions from experience, a reasonable intuition is that additional relevant information should improve their performance. In contrast, we find that additional information about foregone rewards (i.e., what could have gained at each point by making a different choice) severely hinders participants' ability to repeatedly make choices that maximize long-term gains. We conclude that foregone reward information accentuates the local superiority of short-term options (e.g., consumption) and consequently biases choice away from productive long-term options (e.g., exercise). These conclusions are consistent with a standard reinforcement-learning mechanism that processes information about experienced and forgone rewards. In contrast to related contributions using delay-of-gratification paradigms, we do not posit separate top-down and emotion-driven systems to explain performance. We find that individual and group data are well characterized by a single reinforcement-learning mechanism that combines information about experienced and foregone rewards.


Symbolic values, occupational choice, and economic development

Giacomo Corneo & Olivier Jeanne
European Economic Review, February 2010, Pages 241-255

Channeling human resources into occupations with high social productivity has historically been a key to economic prosperity. Occupational choices are not only driven by the material rewards associated with the various occupations, but also driven by the esteem that they confer. We propose a model of endogenous growth in which occupations carry a symbolic value that makes them more or less attractive; the evolution of symbolic values is endogenously determined by purposive transmission of value systems within families. The model sheds light on the interaction between cultural and economic development and identifies circumstances under which value systems matter for long-run growth. It shows the possibility of culturally determined poverty traps and offers a framework for thinking about the transition from traditional to modern values.


Taxpayer Beliefs about Farm Income and Preferences for Farm Policy

Brenna Ellison, Jayson Lusk & Brian Briggeman
Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, forthcoming

One voice that is commonly overlooked in debates about farm policy and payment limitations is that of the average tax payer. Surprisingly little research has been done on what taxpayers believe about farms and what they prefer regarding farm policy. Our sample of taxpayers believes that farmers are doing well financially, and most people actually overestimate farmers' incomes. In addition, we found strong preferences for subsidizing small family farms over very large family farms, even though most of the people in our sample believe small family farms earn a higher level of income than their own household. A large majority of our sample supports government subsidies for farmers, primarily because people believe it ensures a secure food supply.


Risk behaviour in the presence of government programs

Teresa Serra, Barry Goodwin & Allen Featherstone
Journal of Econometrics, forthcoming

Our paper assesses the impacts of the 1996 US Farm Bill on production decisions. We apply the expected utility model to analyze farmers' behavior under risk and assess how farmers' production decisions change in the presence of government programs. Specifically, we empirically evaluate the relative price and the risk-related effects of farm policy changes at the intensive margin of production, as well as the extra value that these policies add to farmers' certainty equivalent. We use farm-level data collected in Kansas to estimate the model. We find evidence that decoupled government programs have only negligible impacts on production decisions.


Who throws good money after bad? Action vs. state orientation moderates the sunk cost fallacy

Marijke van Putten, Marcel Zeelenberg & Eric van Dijk
Judgment and Decision Making, February 2010, Pages 33-36

The sunk cost fallacy is the tendency to continue an endeavour once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made. We studied how people's chronic orientation to cope with failing projects (i.e., action vs. state orientation) influences the occurrence of this sunk cost effect. We found that people with a state orientation, who have a tendency to ruminate about past events and have a hard time to let go of them, were especially prone to fall in the sunk cost trap. People with an action orientation, who more easily let go of past events, were not susceptible to the sunk cost effect. We discuss the implications of these results for the sunk cost fallacy literature.


Does labour supply respond to a flat tax? Evidence from the Russian tax reform

Denvil Duncan & Klara Sabirianova Peter
Economics of Transition, April 2010, Pages 365-404

We exploit the exogenous change in marginal tax rates created by the Russian flat tax reform of 2001 to identify the effect of taxes on the labour supply of men and women. We apply a weighted difference-in-difference regression approach and instrumental variables to estimate labour supply functions using a panel dataset. The mean regression results indicate that the tax reform led to a statistically significant increase in hours of work for men but had no effect on work hours for women. However, we find a positive response to tax changes in both tails of the female work hour distribution. We also find that the reform increased the probability of finding a job among both men and women. Despite significant variation in individual responses, the aggregate labour supply elasticities are trivial. This suggests that reform-induced changes in labour supply are an unlikely explanation for the amplified personal income tax revenues that followed the reform.


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