Aspirations

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Aspirations and Economic Behavior

(with Garance Genicot), December 2019. Forthcoming, Annual Review of Economics.

This paper reviews the literature on aspirations in economics, with a particular focus on socially determined aspirations. The core theory builds on two fundamental principles: (a) aspirations can serve to inspire, but still higher aspirations can lead to frustration and resentment; and (b) aspirations are largely determined by an individual’s social environment. We discuss the implications of this framework for the study of interpersonal inequality, social conflict, fertility choices, risk taking and goal-setting.

Hindu-Muslim Violence in India: A Postscript from the 21st Century

(with Anirban Mitra), in Advances in the Economics of Religion (J-P Carvalho, S. Iyer and J. Rubin, eds.) Volume 158, International Economic Association Series, Palgrave Macmillan (2019).

Summary.  We revisit and extend the core issues studied in Mitra and Ray (2014). The main reason behind this retrospection is to check if the robust empirical patterns recorded there persist once we consider a longer time frame extending into the 21st century. We make three observations: (i) There is a clear economic component to violence, roughly along the lines of our earlier paper; (ii)  There is a new aspect which is assuming salience now — namely, a strong political component which is manifesting itself through the presence of BJP legislators; (iii) Ahmedabad exemplifies the ascendancy of this political component. 

Aspirations and Inequality

(with Garance Genicot) Econometrica 85, 485-519, 2017. Online Appendix2009 version.

Summary. This paper develops a theory of socially determined aspirations, and the interaction of those aspirations with growth and inequality. The interaction is bidirectional: economy-wide outcomes determine individual aspirations, which in turn determine investment incentives and social outcomes. Thus aspirations, income, and the distribution of income evolve jointly.

Aspirations And The Development Treadmill

Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 17, 309–323, 2016.

Summary. I describe a positive theory of socially determined aspirations, and some implications of that theory for the study of economic inequality and social conflict. The main contribution of the theory is that it attempts to describe, in the same explanatory arc, how a change in aspirations can be inspirational in some circumstances, or a source of frustration and resentment in others. These different reactions arise from the aspirational gap: the difference between socially generated aspirations and the current socio-economic standard that the individual enjoys. Ever-accelerating economic development can cut both ways in terms of inspiration and frustration.

Implications of an Economic Theory of Conflict: Hindu-Muslim Violence in India

(with Anirban Mitra), Journal of Political Economy 122, 719-765, 2014.

Summary. We model intergroup conflict driven by economic changes within groups. We show that if group incomes are low, increasing group incomes raises violence against that group and lowers violence generated by it. We then apply the model to data on Hindu-Muslim violence in India. Our main result is that an increase in per capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has a negative or no effect. These findings speak to the origins of Hindu-Muslim violence in post-Independence India. Online Appendix. Sequel.

Aspirations, Segregation and Occupational Choice

(with Dilip Mookherjee and Stefan Napel), Journal of the European Economic Association 8, 139–168, 2010.

Summary. This paper examines steady states of an overlapping generations economy with a given distribution of household locations over a one-dimensional interval. The paper studies steady state configurations of skill acquisition, both with and without segregation, and studies the macroeconomic and welfare effects of segregation on aggregate economic outcomes.

Social Interactions And Segregation In Skill Accumulation

(with Dilip Mookherjee and Stefan Napel), Journal of the European Economic Association 8, 1–13, 2010.

Summary. This paper studies human capital investment in a spatial setting with interpersonal complementarities. A mixture of local and global social interactions affect the cost of acquiring education, and the return to human capital is determined endogenously in the market.

Reinforcement Learning in Repeated Interaction Games

(with Jon Bendor and Dilip Mookherjee), Advances in Theoretical Economics 1, Issue 1, Article 3. Additional notes on extending the model to the probabilistic choice framework of Luce.

Summary. We study long run implications of reinforcement learning when two players repeatedly interact with one another over multiple rounds to play a finite action game. Within each round, the players play the game many successive times with a fixed set of aspirations used to evaluate payoff experiences as successes or failures. The probability weight on successful actions is increased, while failures result in players trying alternative actions in subsequent rounds. The learning rule is supplemented by small amounts of inertia and random perturbations to the states of players. Aspirations are adjusted across successive rounds on the basis of the discrepancy between the average payoff and aspirations in the most recently concluded round. We define and characterize pure steady states of this model, and establish convergence to these under appropriate conditions.

Aspiration-Based Reinforcement Learning in Repeated Interaction Games: An Overview

(with Jon Bendor and Dilip Mookherjee), International Game Theory Review 3, 159–174, 2001.

Summary. In models of aspiration-based reinforcement learning, agents adapt by comparing payoffs achieved from actions chosen in the past with an aspiration level. Though such models are well-established in behavioural psychology, only recently have they begun to receive attention in game theory and its applications to economics and politics. This paper provides an informal overview of a range of such theories applied to repeated interaction games.

Evolving Aspirations and Cooperation

(with Rajeeva Karandikar,  Dilip Mookherjee, and Fernando Vega-Redondo), Journal of Economic Theory 80, 292-331, 1998.

Summary. A 2×2 game is played repeatedly by two satisficing players. The game considered includes the Prisoner’s Dilemma, as well as games of coordination and common interest. Each player has an aspiration at each date, and takes an action. The action is switched at the subsequent period only if the achieved payoff falls below aspirations; the switching probability depends on the shortfall. Aspirations are periodically updated according to payoff experience, but are occasionally subject to trembles. For sufficiently slow updating of aspirations and small tremble probability, it is shown that both players must ultimately cooperate most of the time.