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Evaluating gambles using dynamics

Ole Peters and Murray GellMann, Chaos 26, 023103 (2016) ABSTRACT Gambles are random variables that model possible changes in wealth. Classic decision theory transforms money into utility through a utility function and defines the value of a gamble as the expectation value of utility changes. Utility functions aim to capture individual psychological characteristics, but their generality limits predictive power. Expectation value maximizers are defined as rational in economics, but expectation values are only meaningful in the presence of ensembles or in systems with ergodic properties, whereas decisionmakers have no access to ensembles, and the variables representing wealth in the usual growth models do not have the relevant ergodic properties. Simultaneously addressing the shortcomings of utility and those of expectations, we propose to evaluate gambles by averaging wealth growth over time. No utility function is needed, but a dynamic must be specified to compute time averages. Linear and logarithmic “utility functions” appear as transformations that generate ergodic observables for purely additive and purely multiplicative dynamics, respectively. We highlight inconsistencies throughout the development of decision theory, whose correction clarifies that our perspective is legitimate. These invalidate a commonly cited argument for bounded utility functions. Over the past few years, we have explored a conceptually deep, simple, change of perspective that leads to a novel approach to economics. Much of current economic theory is based on early work in probability theory, performed specifically between the 1650s and the 1730s. This foundational work predates the development of the notion of ergodicity, and it assumes that expectation values reflect what happens over time. This is not the case for stochastic growth processes, but such processes constitute the essential models of economics. As a consequence, nowadays expectation values are often used to evaluate situations where time averages would be appropriate instead, and the result is a “paradox,” “puzzle,” or “anomaly.” This class of problems, including the St. Petersburg paradox and the equitypremium puzzle, can be resolved by ensuring the following: the stochastic growth process involved in the problem needs to be made explicit; the process needs to be transformed to find an appropriate ergodic observable. The expectation value of the new observable will then indeed reflect longtime behavior, and the puzzling essence of the problem will go away. Here we spell out the general recipe, which we phrase as the solution to the general gamble problem that stood at the beginning of the debate in the 17th century. We hope that this recipe will resolve puzzles in many different areas. 
Submitted by elementlist on Feb 25, 2017 (Edited Feb 25, 2017) 
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