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The Methodology of Economics: How Economists Choose Between Theories

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I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that

I began this thesis because I was confused about economics. I wondered why there were so many different models. I didn't understand how they fit together. I was also confused by the assumptions being made. For instance, the assumption that humans are rational utility-maximizers did not seem to agree with my own experiences. With my director Dr. Edward Schlee's help, my thesis has become an inquiry into the state of economic methodology, both in theory and in practice. The questions that drive this paper are: How do economists choose between theories? What is the purpose of economic theory? What is the role of empirical data in assessing models? What role do assumptions play in theory evaluation, and should assumptions make sense? Part I: Methodology is the theoretical portion of the paper. I summarize the essential arguments of the two main schools of thought in economic methodology, and argue for an updated methodology. In Part II: A case study: The expected utility hypothesis, I examine methodology in practice by assessing a handful of studies that seek to test the expected utility hypothesis. Interestingly, I find that there is a different between what economists say they are doing, and what they actually seem to be doing. Throughout this paper, I restrict my analysis to microeconomic theory, simply because this is the area with which I am more familiar. I intend this paper to be a guide for my fellow students and rising economists, as well as for already practicing economists. I hope it helps the reader better understand methodology and improve her own practice.

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2013-05

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Essays in Mechanism Design

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I study split-pie bargaining problems between two agents. In chapter two, the types of both agents determine the value of outside options -- I refer to these as interdependent outside options. Since a direct mechanism stipulates outcomes as functions of

I study split-pie bargaining problems between two agents. In chapter two, the types of both agents determine the value of outside options -- I refer to these as interdependent outside options. Since a direct mechanism stipulates outcomes as functions of agents' types, a player can update beliefs about another player’s type upon receiving a recommended outcome. I term this phenomenon as information leakage. I discuss binding arbitration, where players must stay with a recommended outcome, and non-binding arbitration, where players are not obliged to stay with an allocation. The total pie is reduced if the outcome is an outside option. With respect to efficiency, I derive a necessary and sufficient condition for first best mechanisms. These are mechanisms that assign zero probability to outside options for every report received. The condition describes balanced forces in conflict (outside options) and is the same in the cases of binding and non-binding arbitration. I also show a strong link between conflict and information: when conflict exists, information leakage occurs. Hence, non-binding arbitration may seem more restrictive than binding arbitration. To analyze why this is the case, I solve for second best mechanisms with binding arbitration and find a condition under which they can be implemented under non-binding arbitration. Thus, I show that non-binding arbitration can be as effective as binding arbitration in terms of efficiency. I also examine whether the equivalence between binding and non-binding arbitration can cease to hold, and provide analysis of why this happens. In chapter three, the bargaining problem entails no uncertainty but rather envy. Players can feel envy about the allocation of the other player. The Nash Bargaining solution is obtained in this context and some comparative statics are shown. The introduction of envy makes the more envious party a tougher negotiator.

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2020