Rational Inattention and Energy Efficiency
If time and effort are required to accurately ascertain the lifetime value of energy efficiency for a durable good, consumers might rationally ignore energy efficiency. This paper argues that such inattention may be rational in the market for automobiles and home appliances. To do so, it develops a heuristic model of a consumer's decision problem when purchasing an energy consuming durable good in which uncertainty about each good's energy efficiency can be resolved via costly effort. The model indicates under what conditions the consumer will be less likely to undertake this effort. The empirical portion of the paper argues that energy efficiency is often not pivotal to choice. This, along with a simulation of the automobile market, suggests that returns to paying attention to energy may be modest, and analysis of the information readily available to consumers suggests that the costs of being fully informed may be substantial. The paper discusses the implications of rational inattention for public policy and for empirical research on the energy paradox.
The author would like to thank David Austin, Hunt Allcott, Lucas Davis, Ashley Langer, and seminar participants at the University of Chicago/Resources for the Future Symposium and at the University of California at Berkeley for helpful comments. The author also would like to thank Greg Sasso, Yi Sun and Samantha Superstine for excellent research assistance, Roberts French for providing Environmental Protection Agency five-cycle test data, Hunt Allcott and Ashley Langer for providing data on second choice vehicles, and Ashley Langer for providing data used in simulation. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
James M. Sallee, 2014. "Rational Inattention and Energy Efficiency," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 57(3), pages 781 - 820. citation courtesy of