We explore the idea that judgment by representativeness reflects the workings of episodic memory, especially interference. In a new laboratory experiment on cued recall, participants are shown two groups of images with different distributions of colors. We find that i) decreasing the frequency of a given color in one group significantly increases the recalled frequency of that color in the other group, ii) for a fixed set of images, different cues for the same objective distribution entail different interference patterns and different probabilistic assessments. Selective retrieval and interference may offer a foundation for the representativeness heuristic, but more generally for understanding the formation of probability judgments from experienced statistical associations.
Bordalo, Pedro, Nicola Gennaioli, Spencer Yongwook Kwon, and Andrei Shleifer. Forthcoming. “Diagnostic Bubbles.” Journal of Financial Economics . Abstract
We introduce diagnostic expectations into a standard setting of price formation in which investors learn about the fundamental value of an asset and trade it. We study the interaction of diagnostic expectations with two well-known mechanisms: learning from prices and speculation (buying for resale). With diagnostic (but not with rational) expectations, these mechanisms lead to price paths exhibiting three phases: initial underreaction, followed by overshooting (the bubble), and finally a crash. With learning from prices, the model generates price extrapolation as a byproduct of fast moving beliefs about fundamentals, which lasts only as the bubble builds up. When investors speculate, even mild diagnostic distortions generate substantial bubbles.
Behrer, A. Patrick, Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto, and Andrei Shleifer. Forthcoming. “Securing Property Rights.” Journal of Political Economy. Abstract
A central challenge in securing property rights is the subversion of justice through legal skill, bribery, or physical force by the strong—the state or its powerful citizens—against the weak. We present evidence that undue influence on judges is a common concern in many countries, especially among the poor. We then present a model of a water polluter whose discharges contaminate adjacent land. If this polluter can subvert the assessment of damages caused by his activity, there is an efficiency case for granting the landowner the right to an injunction that stops the polluter, rather than the right to compensation for the harm. If the polluter can subvert even the determination of his responsibility for harm, there is an efficiency case for regulation that restricts pollution regardless of its effects. We then conduct an empirical analysis of water quality in the U.S. before and after the Clean Water Act, and show how regulation brought about cleaner water, particularly in states with higher corruption.
Bordalo, Pedro, Katie Coffman, Nicola Gennaioli, and Andrei Shleifer. 2019. “Beliefs about Gender.” American Economic Review 109 (3): 739-773. Abstract
We conduct laboratory experiments that explore how gender stereotypes shape beliefs about ability of oneself and others in different categories of knowledge. The data reveal two patterns. First, men’s and women’s beliefs about both oneself and others exceed observed ability on average, particularly in difficult tasks. Second, overestimation of ability by both men and women varies across categories. To understand these patterns, we develop a model that separates gender stereotypes from mis-estimation of ability related to the difficulty of the task. We find that stereotypes contribute to gender gaps in self-confidence, assessments of others, and behavior in a cooperative game.
We revisit La Porta's finding that returns on stocks with the most optimistic analyst long‐term earnings growth forecasts are lower than those on stocks with the most pessimistic forecasts. We document the joint dynamics of fundamentals, expectations, and returns of these portfolios, and explain the facts using a model of belief formation based on the representativeness heuristic. Analysts forecast fundamentals from observed earnings growth, but overreact to news by exaggerating the probability of states that have become more likely. We find support for the model's predictions. A quantitative estimation of the model accounts for the key patterns in the data.
Greenwood, Robin, Andrei Shleifer, and Yang You. 2019. “Bubbles for Fama.” Journal of Financial Economics 131 (1): 20-43. Abstract
We evaluate Eugene Fama’s claim that stock prices do not exhibit price bubbles. Based on US industry returns 1926-2014 and international sector returns 1985-2014, we present four findings: (1) Fama is correct in that a sharp price increase of an industry portfolio does not, on average, predict unusually low returns going forward; (2) such sharp price increases predict a substantially heightened probability of a crash; (3) attributes of the price run-up, including volatility, turnover, issuance, and the price path of the run-up can all help forecast an eventual crash and future returns; and (4) some of these characteristics can help investors earn superior returns by timing the bubble. Results hold similarly in US and international samples.
We present a model of credit cycles arising from diagnostic expectations – a belief formation mechanism based on Kahneman and Tversky’s (1972) representativeness heuristic. In this formulation, when forming their beliefs agents overweight future outcomes that have become more likely in light of incoming data. The model reconciles extrapolation and neglect of risk in a unified framework. Diagnostic expectations are forward looking, and as such are immune to the Lucas critique and nest rational expectations as a special case. In our model of credit cycles, credit spreads are excessively volatile, over-react to news, and are subject to predictable reversals. These dynamics can account for several features of credit cycles and macroeconomic volatility
We present a model of investment hangover motivated by the Great Recession. Overbuilding of durable capital such as housing requires a reallocation of productive resources to other sectors, which is facilitated by a reduction in the interest rate. When monetary policy is constrained, overbuilding induces a demand-driven recession with limited reallocation and low output. Investment in other capital initially declines due to low demand, but it later booms and induces an asymmetric recovery in which the overbuilt sector is left behind. Welfare can be improved by expost policies that stimulate investment (including in overbuilt capital), and ex-ante policies that restrict investment.
Chinese housing prices rose by over 10 percent per year in real terms between 2003 and 2014, and are now between two and ten times higher than the construction cost of apartments. At the same time, Chinese developers built 100 billion square feet of residential real estate. This boom has been accompanied by a large increase in the number of vacant homes, held by both developers and households. This boom may turn out to be a housing bubble followed by a crash, yet that future is far from certain. The demand for real estate in China is so strong that current prices might be sustainable, especially given the sparse alternative investments for Chinese households, so long as the level of new supply is radically curtailed. Whether that happens depends on the policies of the Chinese government, which must weigh the benefits of price stability against the costs of restricting urban growth.
We present a model of stereotypes based on Kahneman and Tversky’s representativeness heuristic. A decision maker assesses a target group by overweighting its representative types, defined as the types that occur more frequently in that group than in a baseline reference group. Stereotypes formed this way contain a ‘‘kernel of truth’’: they are rooted in true differences between groups. Because stereotypes focus on differences, they cause belief distortions, particularly when groups are similar. Stereotypes are also context dependent: beliefs about a group depend on the characteristics of the reference group. In line with our predictions, beliefs in the lab about abstract groups and beliefs in the field about political groups are context dependent and distorted in the direction of representative types. JEL Codes: D03, D83, D84, C91.
We present a model of market competition in which consumers' attention is drawn to the products' most salient attributes. Firms compete for consumer attention via their choices of quality and price. Strategic positioning of a product affects how all other products are perceived. With this attention externality, depending on the cost of producing quality some markets exhibit “commoditized” price salient equilibria, while others exhibit “de-commoditized” quality salient equilibria. When the costs of quality change, innovation can lead to radical shifts in markets, as in the case of decommoditization of the coffee market by Starbucks. In the context of financial innovation, the model generates the phenomenon of “reaching for yield”.
Using micro data from Duke University quarterly survey of Chief Financial Officers, we show that corporate investment plans as well as actual investment are well explained by CFOs’ expectations of earnings growth. The information in expectations data is not subsumed by traditional variables, such as Tobin’s Q or discount rates. We also show that errors in CFO expectations of earnings growth are predictable from past earnings and other data, pointing to extrapolative structure of expectations and suggesting that expectations may not be rational. This evidence, like earlier findings in finance, points to the usefulness of data on actual expectations for understanding economic behavior.
We examine the business model of traditional commercial banks when they compete with shadow banks. While both types of intermediaries create safe “money-like” claims, they go about this in different ways. Traditional banks create money-like claims by holding illiquid fixed-income assets to maturity, and they rely on deposit insurance and costly equity capital to support this strategy. This strategy allows bank depositors to remain “sleepy”: they do not have to pay attention to transient fluctuations in the market value of bank assets. In contrast, shadow banks create money-like claims by giving their investors an early exit option requiring the rapid liquidation of assets. Thus, traditional banks have a stable source of funding, while shadow banks are subject to runs and fire-sale losses. In equilibrium, traditional banks have a comparative advantage at holding fixed-income assets that have only modest fundamental risk but are illiquid and have substantial transitory price volatility, whereas shadow banks tend to hold relatively liquid assets.
We present a new model of investors delegating portfolio management to professionals based on trust. Trust in the manager reduces an investor’s perception of the riskiness of a given investment, and allows managers to charge fees. Money managers compete for investor funds by setting fees, but because of trust, fees do not fall to costs. In equilibrium, fees are higher for assets with higher expected return, managers on average under perform the market net of fees, but investors nevertheless prefer to hire managers to investing on their own. When investors hold biased expectations, trust causes managers to pander to investor beliefs.
The 2014 John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association was awarded to Matthew Gentzkow of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The citation recognized Matt’s “fundamental contributions to our understanding of the economic forces driving the creation of media products, the changing nature and role of media in the digital environment, and the effect of media on education and civic engagement.” In addition to his work on the media, Matt has made a number of significant contributions to empirical industrial organization more broadly, as well as to applied economic theory. In this essay, I highlight some of these contributions, which are listed on Table 1. I will be referring to these papers by their number on this list.
Matt earned both his AB in 1997, and, after a brief career in the theatre, his PhD in 2004 from Harvard, where he began to work on the media. At Harvard he also met Jesse Shapiro, his close friend and collaborator. I was one of Matt’s (as well as Jesse’s) thesis advisors. From Harvard, both Matt and Jesse moved to Chicago Booth School, where their research truly thrived and they contributed to a fantastic group of applied economists.