Where decisions taking place in world of certainty, consumers know for sure the utility they will receive given a choice of goods. Firms know for sure the profit they will receive from a chosen set of inputs, this does not describe the real world, technological, uncertainty, market uncertainty, many issues cannot be addressed without considering uncertainty e.g. stock market, insurance, futures markets (investment and savings decisions). In this essay I will look at attitudes towards risk and uncertainty in the insurance market. When people have to make decisions in the presence of uncertainty rational decision making does not go out the window. The standard tools for analyzing rational choice can be modified to accommodate uncertainty.
A person in an uncertain environment is choosing among contingent commodities, whose value depends on the eventual outcome or state of the world. As with ordinary commodities, people have preferences for contingent commodities that can be represented by an indifference map. The slope of the budget constraint between two contingent commodities depends on the payoff associated with each state of the world. The curvature of the indifference curve depends on whether the individual is risk averse, risk loving or risk neutral. A risk-averse person will not accept an actuarially fair bet. Risk-averse people purchase insurance in order to spread consumption more evenly across states of the world. When risk-averse people are allowed to purchase fair insurance, they will insure themselves fully in the sense that their consumption is the same in every state of the world. The amount of insurance demanded depends on the premium and on the probability that the insurable event will occur. People with von Neumann-Morgenstern utility functions, in which the probability of each state of the world is multiplied by the utility associates with that state of the world, seek to maximise the expected value of their utility. The assumption of expected utility maximisation, together with decision trees, can be used to break up complicates decisions into simple components that can be readily solved. By comparing the expected utility of each option, the individual can determine their optimal strategy.
An individual’s attitude towards risk in which there is a single good (income), assuming that there are only two states of the world (state 1 and state 2), let y1 denote income in state 1 and y2, income in state 2. Let π denote the probability of state 1 so that (1 – π) is the probability of state 2. Given this, the expected value of income is E(y) = πy1 + (1- π)y2 the weighted average level of income received by the individual over the two states of the world. Utility of the expected value is u[E(y)] = u(π(y1) + (1- π )y2). The utility received by the individual from the weighted average level of income y. Expected utility is given by
E(u)= πu(y1) + (1- π)u(y2),
which is the utility received by the individual from fluctuating income levels across the two states of the world
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