Relative Concerns on Visible Consumption: A Source of Economic Distortions

Oct 2013 | 676

Authors: Climent Quintana-Domeque, Francesco Turino

Do relative concerns on visible consumption give rise to economic distortions?  We re-examine the question posited by Arrow and Dasgupta (2009) building upon their theoretical framework but recognizing that relative concerns can only apply to visible goods (e.g., cars, clothing, jewelry) and that households consume both visible and non-visible goods.  Contrary to Arrow and Dasgupta (2009), the answer to this question turns to be always affirmative: the competitive equilibrium marginal rate of substitution between the visible and non-visible goods will always be different than the socially optimal one, since individuals do not take into account the negative externality they exert on others through the consumption of the visible good, while the social planner does.  If one is willing to invoke separability assumptions, then the steady state competitive equilibrium consumption of non-visible goods will be strictly lower than the socially optimal one, consistent with expenditure patterns both in developed and developing countries.

JEL Codes: D6, E2

Keywords: visible goods, non-visible goods, conspicuous consumption, inconspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure, inconspicuous leisure, labor supply, market distortions

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