A Behavioral Defense of Rational Expectations

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This paper studies decision making by agents who value optimism, but are unsure of their environment. As in Brunnermeier and Parker (2005), an agent’s optimism is assumed to be tempered by the decision costs it imposes. As in Hansen and Sargent (2008), an agent’s uncertainty about his environment leads him to formulate ‘robust’ decision rules. It is shown that when combined, these two considerations can lead agents to adhere to the Rational Expectations Hypothesis. Rather than being the outcome of the sophisticated statistical calculations of an impassive expected utility maximizer, Rational Expectations can instead be viewed as a useful approximation in environments where agents struggle to strike a balance between doubt and hope.

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