Do infants have preferences or utility functions?

This seemingly intractable question is easy enough to answer if you are an academic economist. All you need do is simply assume your answer is yes. But is this any way to search for truth? Doesn’t the economic approach fail the falsification test?

Adys-March13-2014

Image courtesy of baby Adys Ann.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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6 Responses to Do infants have preferences or utility functions?

  1. The Professor's Wife says:

    Dear PriorProbability,

    What are Utility Functions?

    Thank you for the beautiful image of baby Adys Ann

    • enrique says:

      Great question. In economics, a “utility function” is a way of modeling the behavior of consumers. The idea here in words is that a consumer has limited resources (e.g. income), so he must make choices in order to “maximize” the things he really values the most. Go back to my baby example. What are the things that an infant wants to maximize? Presumably, a baby wants to maximize such things as mother’s milk, siestas, clean nappies, and love & affection … But how can we model a baby’s utility function over these things when babies can’t make their own choices? True, a baby has a few ways of expressing her preferences, such as by crying and smiling, but then we run up against the problem of fake crying!

  2. enrique says:

    Addendum: here is a good 5-minute tutorial on utility functions

  3. Pingback: Economists are not scientists | prior probability

  4. The Professor's Wife says:

    Thank you PriorProbability for your explanation and the tutorial.

    So you can’t model a babies behavior because of several things including
    1. They can’t make their own choices, and
    2. Fake crying

    But what about consumers who aren’t making their own choices and consumers who are faking it?

    I am currently taking care of my baby so I don’t have time to really learn the video. Once I do I will comment.

  5. enrique says:

    I saw the 5-minute video for myself and I will concede that it is very theoretical and abstract (especially the part about monotonicity!) because the video is describing all the implicit assumptions that must be true for utility functions to make sense … in any case, the video provides a good introduction to utility functions and how economists use them …

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