This essay was written for the inaugural issue of a journal Called KNOW, published in conjunction with the Stevanovich Institute for the Formation of Knowledge. I explore why addressing uncertainty in our knowledge is especially important in economic analyses when we seek a better understanding of markets, economic outcomes, and the impact of alternative policies. I also provide some historical context to the formalization of the alternative components to uncertainty and their impact in economic analyses. It has been important in economic scholarship to take inventory, not only of what we know, but also of the gaps in this knowledge. Thus, part of economic research assesses what we know about what we do not know and how we confront what we do not know. Not only does uncertainty matter for how economic researchers interpret and use evidence, but also for how consumers and enterprises we incorporate in models confront the future.
Dynamic economic models make predictions about impulse responses that characterize how macroeconomic processes respond to alternative shocks over different horizons. From the perspective of asset pricing, impulse responses quantify the exposure of macroeconomic processes and other cash flows to macroeconomic shocks. Financial markets provide compensations to investors who are exposed to these shocks. Adopting an asset pricing vantage point, we describe and apply methods for computing exposures to macroeconomic shocks and the implied compensations represented as elasticities over alternative payoff horizons. The outcome is a term structure of macroeconomic uncertainty.
A decision maker expresses ambiguity about statistical models in the following ways. He has a family of structured parametric probability models but suspects that their parameters vary over time in unknown ways that he does not describe probabilis- tically. He expresses a further suspicion that all of these parametric models are misspecified by entertaining alternative unstructured probability distributions that he represents only as positive martingales and that he restricts to be statistically close to the structured parametric models. Because he is averse to ambiguity, he uses a max-min criterion to evaluate alternative plans. We characterize equilibrium uncertainty prices by confronting a decision maker with a portfolio choice problem. We offer a quantitative illustration for structured parametric models that focus uncertainty on macroeconomic growth and its persistence. There emerge nonlinearities in marginal valuations that induce time variation in market prices uncertainty. Prices of uncertainty fluctuate because the investor especially fears high persistence in bad states and low persistence in good ones.
Asset prices contain information about the probability distribution of future states and the stochastic discounting of those states as used by investors. To better understand the challenge in distinguishing investors’ beliefs from risk‐adjusted discounting, we use Perron–Frobenius Theory to isolate a positive martingale component of the stochastic discount factor process. This component recovers a probability measure that absorbs long‐term risk adjustments. When the martingale is not degenerate, surmising that this recovered probability captures investors’ beliefs distorts inference about risk‐return tradeoffs. Stochastic discount factors in many structural models of asset prices have empirically relevant martingale components.
A decision maker constructs a convex set of nonnegative martingales to use as likelihood ratios that represent parametric alternatives to a baseline model and also nonparametric models statistically close to both the baseline model and the parametric alternatives. Max-min expected utility over that set gives rise to equilibrium prices of model uncertainty expressed as worst-case distortions to drifts in a representative investor’s baseline model. We offer quantitative illustrations for baseline models of consumption dynamics that display long-run risk. We describe a set of parametric alternatives that generates countercyclical prices of uncertainty.
NBER Working Paper No. 22000
This paper studies alternative ways of representing uncertainty about a law of motion in a version of a classic macroeconomic targetting problem of Milton Friedman (1953). We study both “unstructured uncertainty” – ignorance of the conditional distribution of the target next period as a function of states and controls – and more “structured uncertainty” – ignorance of the probability distribution of a response coefficient in an otherwise fully trusted specification of the conditional distribution of next period׳s target. We study whether and how different uncertainties affect Friedman׳s advice to be cautious in using a quantitative model to fine tune macroeconomic outcomes.
Dynamic stochastic equilibrium models of the macro economy are designed to match the macro time series including impulse response functions. Since these models aim to be structural, they also have implications for asset pricing. To assess these implications, we explore asset pricing counterparts to impulse response functions. We use the resulting dynamic value decomposition (DVD) methods to quantify the exposures of macroeconomic cash flows to shocks over alternative investment horizons and the corresponding prices or compensations that investors must receive because of the exposure to such shocks. We build on the continuous-time methods developed in Hansen and Scheinkman (2010), Borovicka et al. (2011) and Hansen (2011) by constructing discrete-time shock elasticities that measure the sensitivity of cash flows and their prices to economic shocks including economic shocks featured in the empirical macroeconomics literature. By design, our methods are applicable to economic models that are nonlinear, including models with stochastic volatility. We illustrate our methods by analyzing the asset pricing model of Ai et al. (2010) with tangible and intangible capital.
We construct shock elasticities that are pricing counterparts to impulse response functions. Recall that impulse response functions measure the importance of next-period shocks for future values of a time series. Shock elasticities measure the contributions to the price and to the expected future cash flow from changes in the exposure to a shock in the next period. They are elasticities because their measurements compute proportionate changes. We show a particularly close link between these objects in environments with Brownian information structures.
“We must infer what the future situation would be without our interference, and what changes will be wrought by our actions. Fortunately, or unfortunately, none of these processes is infallible, or indeed ever accurate and complete.” Knight (1921)
I explore methods that characterize model-based valuation of stochastically growing cash flows. Following previous research, I use stochastic discount factors as a convenient device to depict asset values. I extend that literature by focusing on the impact of compounding these discount factors over alternative investment horizons. In modeling cash flows, I also incorporate stochastic growth factors. I explore dynamic value decomposition (DVD) methods that capture concurrent compounding of a stochastic growth and discount factors in determining risk-adjusted values. These methods are supported by factorizations that extract martingale components of stochastic growth and discount factors. These components reveal which ingredients of a model have long-term implications for valuation. The resulting martingales imply convenient changes in measure that are distinct from those used in mathematical finance, and they provide the foundations for analyzing model-based implications for the term structure of risk prices. As an illustration of the methods, I re-examine some recent preference based models. I also use the martingale extraction to revisit the value implications of some benchmark models with market restrictions and heterogenous consumers.