Buying and selling price for risky lotteries and expected utility theory with gambling wealth
Abstract
I analyze two expected utility models which abandon the consequentialist assumption of terminal wealth positions. In the expected utility of gambling wealth model, in which initial wealth is allowed to be small, I show that a large WTA/WTP gap is possible and the (Rabin in Econometrica, 68(5), 1281–1292, 2000) paradox may be resolved. Within the same model the classical preference reversal which allows arbitrage is not possible, whereas preference reversal (involving buying prices in place of selling prices), which does not allow arbitrage, is possible. In the expected utility of wealth changes model, in which there is no initial wealth, I show that both a WTA/WTP gap as well as the classical preference reversal are possible due to loss aversion, both in its general as well as some specific forms.
Keywords
Expected utility Narrow framing Rabin (2000) paradox Preference reversal WTA/WTP disparity Buying and selling price for a lotteryJEL Classifications
D81 D03 C91Willingness to accept (WTA) or selling price for a lottery is a minimal sure amount of money which a person is willing to accept to forego the right to play the lottery. Willingness to pay (WTP) or buying price for a lottery, on the other hand, is a maximal sure amount of money which a person is willing to pay in order to get the right to play the lottery. The disparity between willingness to pay and willingness to accept is a wellknown phenomenon that arises in experimental settings. There is a large body of evidence starting with Knetsch and Sinden (1984) and Thaler (1980) that WTA is much higher than WTP for many types of goods. Horowitz and McConnell (2002) is a survey which documents and analyzes results from a great number of experiments and obtains mean values of the WTA/WTP ratio for different goods. The mean WTA/WTP ratio for lotteries is 2.10 and it is small as compared to the same ratio for other goods, especially nonmarket goods for which the average WTA/WTP ratio is over 7. On the other hand Chilton et al. (2012) find that in the area of medical services as the severity of health complaint is reduced, the WTA/WTP ratio converges across the sample and does not exceed 1 significantly.
Despite the differences across different contexts and goods, WTA is on average much higher in value than WTP. There have been many attempts to give account for this phenomenon.
There is strong belief in the literature that this evidence is not consistent with expected utility theory. Along the lines of Rubinstein (2006) I will argue that the source of this belief lies in associating expected utility theory with the doctrine of consequentialism, according to which “the decision maker makes all decisions having in mind a preference relation over the same set of final consequences”. This association is harmless when considering Constant Absolute Risk Aversion (CARA), as in this case decisions whether to accept a given lottery do not depend on wealth. However, as many studies confirm, people usually exhibit Decreasing Absolute Risk Aversion (DARA), in which case wealth effects are present.
In practice the doctrine of consequentialism means that the initial wealth underlying any decision whether to accept or reject a given lottery is assumed to be the decision maker’s lifetime wealth. It follows that most lotteries under consideration are small relative to initial wealth and therefore, by Rabin (2000)’s argument for any reasonable level of risk aversion expected utility predicts approximate risk neutrality towards such lotteries. In this case, not only is expected utility incapable of accommodating large spreads between buying and selling price, but also it is inconsistent with risk averse behavior for small gambles^{1}. Instead of burying expected utility theory I propose to divorce it from the doctrine of consequentialism, i.e. relax the assumption that initial wealth underlying any decision whether to accept a gamble is total lifetime wealth of the decision maker. If initial wealth is allowed to be small, I will show that expected utility is consistent with large buying/selling price spreads, i.e. that within expected utility for levels of risk aversion consistent with experimental evidence, one can obtain a buying/selling price spread of the magnitude observed in experiments. Following this finding I will propose an alternative for consequentialism involving narrow framing. Instead of asserting that preferences are always defined over total lifetime wealth, I will assume that preferences over gambling are defined over gambling wealth, i.e this part of the decision maker’s total wealth which he designates for taking gambles. The idea is taken from Foster and Hart (2009), although the seeds of this approach, and in particular the idea of separating lifetime wealth and something else for different decision problems, are already in Rubinstein (2006).
There are many papers on the disparity between willingness to accept and willingness to pay for risky lotteries. It is part of a vast literature stream on WTA and WTP valuations in general. For example, Schmidt et al. (2008) explain the WTA/WTP spread for risky lotteries using prospect theory. They propose the thirdgeneration prospect theory, in which, unlike in the previous versions, the reference point is allowed to be random. They show that loss aversion in such a model implies a positive WTA/WTP gap. In a recent paper Viscusi and Huber (2012) show on the basis of a large experiment that in the case of environmental health risk probabilities the WTA/WTP gap is due largely to the reference dependence effects related to costs. Estimated income effects in their results were negligible.
In general, there have been many accounts for the disparity based on nonexpected utility models. My aim in this paper is not to offer a better explanation. My goal is to show that large spreads between WTA and WTP, due entirely to wealth effects, are possible within expected utility if only wealth is interpreted narrowly as gambling wealth. The advantage of this approach is to show that one does not have to depart from rationality so much (as in many behavioral models) in order to explain WTA/WTP gaps as well as some other behavioral phenomena.
The approach I take in this paper in general is not novel. As I mentioned before, Rubinstein (2006) claims that a lot of recent confusion around expected utility, which led some researchers to question it as a descriptive theory, is caused by associating expected utility theory with the assumption of consequentialism—the idea that there is a single preference relation over the set of all possible lotteries with prizes being “final wealth levels”. For more discussion on the related literature please refer to Section 2.3 on Rabin’s paradox. My approach is to apply this reasoning which emerged when discussing Rabin’s paradox to a wider spectrum of topics, such as for example the WTA/WTP gap. For more discussion on the doctrine of consequentialism and different alternatives to it, see Section 4.
Related to buying/selling price disparity is the issue of preference reversal analyzed by Grether and Plott (1979). There are two lotteries called the $bet and the Pbet both of which promise some prize with some probability and nothing otherwise, such that the probability of winning is higher for the Pbet but the prize is bigger for the $bet. Preference reversal occurs when selling price for the $bet is higher than that for the Pbet but the Pbet is preferred to the $bet in a direct choice^{2}. A related possibility, which I call preference reversal B, occurs when the buying price for the Pbet is higher than that for the $bet and yet the $bet is chosen over the Pbet in a direct choice. I will show that traditional preference reversal is susceptible to arbitrage and is not possible within expected utility, whereas preference reversal B is possible within expected utility and it does not allow arbitrage. This result may suggest that traditional preference reversal is less rational than preference reversal B.
The structure of this paper is as follows. In Section 1 I introduce the model, its assumptions, definitions of buying and selling price for a lottery and buying/selling price reversal. Then I state a couple of technical propositions which describe the shape and properties of the buying and selling price for a lottery for different risk attitudes. Section 2 contains the main theses of the paper. Focusing on the constant relative risk aversion (CRRA) class of utility functions, I demonstrate first that expected utility with consequentialism is likely to predict risk neutral behavior towards most gambles and eventually a gap between buying and selling price becomes negligible. Second, I demonstrate that if the doctrine of consequentialism is abandoned and wealth is allowed to move over the whole domain, significant spreads between buying and selling price are possible due to income effects when wealth is sufficiently small. As a next step, I propose an alternative to consequentialism involving narrow framing. Instead of defining wealth as total lifetime wealth of the decision maker I suggest using gambling wealth, which is that part of the decision maker’s total wealth that he designates for the purpose of taking gambles. I discuss ways to test this gambling wealth hypothesis. Then I compare gambling wealth to the concept of pocket cash money introduced by Fudenberg and Levine (2006) and show the similarities and differences between the two ideas. I also mention ways of resolving Rabin’s paradox in the literature and how it relates to the concept of gambling wealth and the concept of pocket cash money. In Section 3 I examine the possibility of what I call preference reversal B, which I compare to the related concept of traditional preference reversal. I show that whereas preference reversal B is possible within an expected utility framework with gambling wealth instead of total lifetime wealth and it does not allow arbitrage opportunities, preference reversal allows arbitrage opportunities and is not possible within expected utility. Section 4 contains the discussion on consequentialism, the concept around which much of the discussion and arguments in this paper are organized. This section also discusses different alternatives to consequentialism. Section 5 discusses expected utility over wealth changes as one of these alternatives departing from consequentialism more radically than expected utility with gambling wealth. The issues of WTA/WTP disparity and preference reversal are discussed for this model and the results are compared with similar results for expected utility with gambling wealth. Section 6 concludes. The Appendix at the end of this paper contains proofs of the propositions.
1 The model
1.1 Basic definitions and assumptions
I start with basic assumptions and definitions.
Assumption 1
Preferences obey expected utility axioms. Bernoulli utility function \(U: \mathbb {R} \rightarrow \mathbb {R}\) is twice continuously differentiable, strictly increasing and strictly concave.
Definition 1
A lottery x is a real and finitevalued random variable with finite support. The space of all lotteries will be denoted \(\mathcal {X}\). I define the maximal loss of lottery x as: min(x) = min supp(x).
The typical lottery will be denoted as x ≡ (x _{1}, p _{1};...;x _{ n }, p _{ n }), where \(x_{i}\in \mathbb {R}, \ i\in \{1, 2, ..., n\}\) are outcomes and p _{ i } ∈ [0, 1], i ∈ {1, 2, ..., n} the corresponding probabilities. Outcomes should be interpreted here as monetary values. Although most results that follow are true for more general lotteries, the finite support assumption is sufficient for the purposes of this paper. Now I define buying and selling price for a lottery given wealth level along the lines of Raiffa (1968). To avoid repetitions, I will henceforth skip statements of the form: “Given utility function U satisfying Assumption 1, any lottery x and wealth W...”.
Definition 2
If utility function is defined over the whole real line as is the case for constant absolute risk aversion, buying and selling price as functions of wealth exists for any wealth level by Assumption 1. If the domain of the utility function is restricted to a part of the real line as is the case of the constant relative risk aversion utility function analyzed here, I will specify later on in the paper on which domain buying and selling price are defined as functions of wealth.
In economic terms, given an individual with initial wealth W whose preferences are represented by utility function U(⋅), S(W, x) is the minimal amount of money which he demands for giving up lottery x. Similarly, B(W, x) is the maximal amount of money which he is willing to pay in order to play lottery x. Additionally I define a concept of buying/selling price reversal.
Definition 3
This kind of preference pattern may be interpreted as follows. For a given initial wealth, an individual’s certainty equivalent for lottery y is higher than for lottery x, and yet he is willing to pay more to play lottery x than to play lottery y. In other words, an individual exhibiting buying/selling price reversal may prefer to buy x than y if he does not have the right to play any lottery initially. When, on the other hand, he does play the lottery initially, he would prefer to sell x than y.
1.2 Preliminary results
Before introducing the main point of this paper I need a couple of theoretical results which describe properties of buying and selling price for a lottery for different risk attitudes. The most basic property of buying and selling price which is true for any concave strictly increasing utility function is the following:
Proposition 1.1 (Concave)
For any nondegenerate lottery x and any wealth W such that buying and selling price exist, S(W, x) and B(W, x) lie in the interval (min(x), E(x)). For a degenerate lottery x, S(W, x) = B(W, x) = x.
Proof
In the Appendix. □
Below I state propositions which characterize CARA, DARA and CRRA utility functions in terms of buying and selling price. Proofs of these propositions may be found for example in Lewandowski (2011) along with an extensive discussion on multiplicative and nominal gambles and risk aversion notions for the two kinds of gambles. I start with the results on CARA and DARA utility functions:
Proposition 1.2 (CARA)

i. Bernoulli utility function exhibits CARA
 ii. Buying and selling price are independent from wealth and equal i.e.where α is absolute risk aversion coefficient and C _{ α } takes real values and depends only on α.$$\begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} B(W, \mathbf{x}) = S(W, \mathbf{x}) = C_{\alpha}, \ \forall W \end{array}$$
Proposition 1.3 (DARA)

i. Bernoulli utility function exhibits DARA
 ii. buying and selling price are increasing in Wfor a nondegenerate lottery x.$$\begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} B(W, \mathbf{x})>0 \iff B(W, \mathbf{x})<S(W, \mathbf{x}) \end{array}$$
The above propositions show that in the expected utility model a gap between buying and selling price can only arise due to wealth effects. Selling price is higher than buying price for a lottery for which I would be willing to pay a positive amount only if absolute risk aversion decreases in wealth. In the subsequent analysis I will be especially interested in the CRRA class, which is a subset of DARA:
Proposition 1.4 (CRRA)

i. Bernoulli utility function exhibits CRRA
 ii. buying and selling price for any lottery are homogeneous of degree one i.e.$$\begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} S(\lambda W, \lambda\mathbf{x})&=&\lambda S(W, \mathbf{x}), \ \forall \lambda>0 \\ B(\lambda W, \lambda\mathbf{x})&=&\lambda B(W, \mathbf{x}), \ \forall \lambda>0 \end{array}$$
2 Buying/selling price spread within the expected utility framework
2.1 Buying and selling price for CRRA class of utility functions
Proposition 2.1 (CRRA2)

\(\lim _{W\rightarrow 0}B(W, \mathbf {x}) = \min (\mathbf {x})\)

\(\lim _{W\rightarrow \min (\mathbf {x})}S(W, \mathbf {x}) = \min (\mathbf {x})\)

\(\lim _{W\rightarrow W_{L}(\mathbf {x})}B(W, \mathbf {x}) = W_{L}(\mathbf {x})+\min (\mathbf {x})\),

\(\lim _{W\rightarrow \min (\mathbf {x})}S(W, \mathbf {x}) = W_{L}(\mathbf {x})+\min (\mathbf {x})\)
Proof
In the Appendix. □
The above proposition establishes the domain and the range of buying and selling price for a given lottery x as functions of wealth for CRRA utility functions which are defined above. Now that I have introduced the necessary theoretical results, I proceed to the main message of this paper.
2.2 Expected utility and consequentialism
Consequentialism is a doctrine that says that an individual makes all decisions according to a preference relation defined over one set of final consequences^{3}. In practice it means that initial wealth taken into account when making whatever decision is interpreted as the decision maker’s total lifetime wealth. Most lotteries which a person may encounter are small relative to his lifetime wealth. In particular, lotteries used in experiments have values which are small relative to total lifetime wealth of experimental subjects. Therefore, to explain certain experimental results, it is sufficient to focus on lotteries that have values which are negligible as compared to total lifetime wealth. To represent this fact I assert here that lotteries have bounded values and consequentialism approximately means that wealth tends to infinity. In this case the following result holds:
Proposition 2.2
Expected utility with consequentialism and CRRA approximately predicts no buying/selling price spread and risk neutrality.
Proof
The proof follows directly from Eq. 4 in Proposition 2.1. We claim that consequentialism implies that most lotteries encountered in practical decisionmaking of a given individual have values which are very small compared to his/her lifetime wealth. We shall represent this fact approximately by allowing wealth to go to infinity with lottery values being bounded and fixed. What happens is that both selling price and buying price tend to E[x] and hence the gap between them vanishes. Since the distance E[x] − S(W, x) measures risk aversion, it is clear that there is no risk aversion either.
This proposition is very similar to Rabin (2000)’s calibration theorem confined to the CRRA class of utility functions. Reasonable levels of risk aversion for big gambles give rise to risk neutral behavior towards small gambles within expected utility with consequentialism. The difference between (Rabin 2000)’s argument is that I claim after Rubinstein (2006) that this is due to consequentialism and not due to expected utility itself.
This negative result immediately raises the issue of what happens if I drop the assumption of consequentialism. To answer this question I proceed in two steps. First, I show that relaxing consequentialism is promising, i.e. a large buying/selling price for a lottery for reasonable levels of risk aversion may be obtained. Second, I propose an alternative assumption which could replace the assumption of consequentialism.
Lemma 1

B′(W) < 1

\(S'(WB(W)) = \frac {B'(W)}{1B'(W)}\) and hence S′ (W − B(W)) > B′ (W)

\(B'(W+S(W)) = \frac {S'(W)}{1+S'(W)}\) and hence B′ (W + S(W)) < S′(W)

\(S'(W) = \frac {S(W)B(W)}{B(W)}\) and \(B'(W) = \frac {S(W)B(W)}{S(W)}\) for small positive S(W)
Proof
In the Appendix. □
Observe that the slope of buying price is always smaller than one whereas the slope of selling price can be higher for small values of wealth. Before I state a proposition describing the characteristics of the relative gap between buying and selling price I need the following lemma:
Lemma 2
For a CRRA utility function, given any nondegenerate lottery x, S(W) and B(W) are concave functions.
Proof
See Lewandowski (2011).
I focus now on the case when S(W) > B(W) > 0. The remaining cases can be analyzed similarly. By Proposition 2.1, to make sure that B(W) is positive I require that min(x) cannot be lower than zero. The following proposition suggests that for a CRRA utility function, the lower the wealth the higher the relative gap between buying and selling price.
Proposition 2.3
For a CRRA utility function and any lottery x with min(x) ≥ 0, the relative gap between buying and selling price τ(W) is strictly decreasing in W.
Proof
In the Appendix. □
This proposition already gives an explanation of why the buying/selling price gap cannot be predicted within expected utility with consequentialism for small experimental lotteries. The reason is that within expected utility, the gap between buying and selling price is the highest for small values of wealth. So if initial wealth is small, the expected utility model can accommodate large buying and selling price gaps.
Using Lemma 1 and Proposition 2.3 it is possible to infer certain properties of buying and selling price when data on relative gap between buying and selling price is available. Also, in the opposite direction, it is possible to infer properties of the relative gap between buying and selling price when certain properties of buying and selling price are known.
As illustrated by this simple example and stated formally in the propositions, the smaller the wealth the greater the relative gap between buying and selling price. So if wealth is small enough it is possible to obtain the gap between buying and selling price consistent with experimental evidence for reasonable levels of risk aversion. I will summarize this finding in a proposition.
Proposition 2.4
For levels of risk aversion which are consistent with experimental evidence on risk attitudes, there exists levels of wealth such that the expected utility model predicts a high relative gap between buying and selling price.
To make this finding more precise, notice that for the example above in the case of logarithmic utility function (the middle figure in Fig. 1), we have the relative gap between buying and selling price which is unbounded above as wealth tends to zero.
Selling price 30% higher than buying price
α  0.5  1  2 

W  35.15  43.94  51.57 
Assuming that the decision maker exhibits constant relative risk aversion, one can calibrate pairs of wealth and relative risk aversion consistent with any given level of relative gap between selling and buying price for a given lottery.
2.3 Expected utility with gambling wealth
I have argued above that expected utility with total wealth interpretation of wealth predicts no gap between buying and selling price and risk neutrality for a wide range of gambles used in experiments. On the other hand I have shown that if small values of wealth are possible one can obtain large gaps between buying and selling price for a lottery for reasonable levels of risk aversion. One way to proceed would be to make wealth a free parameter of the model. Then, if one believes that expected utility is a good descriptive model of behavior, then given the data on risky choices one can calibrate which pairs of risk attitude and wealth level are consistent with the data, as I have illustrated in Table 1. Unfortunately, by making wealth a free parameter, the model loses much of its predictive power. In particular, it is harder to falsify the model or design testable predictions. Another way to proceed is to give wealth a new interpretation or, even better, to develop a theory of endogenous wealth determination and then to test whether this new interpretation gives better answers than consequentialist interpretation. Since at this point I am unable to offer a theory of endogenous wealth determination, I will only propose a new interpretation of wealth and ways to test it.
Gambling wealth
Consequentialism assumption implies that when making any kind of decision, people consider and have in mind their lifetime wealth. I think a good alternative assumption is that people frame decisions narrowly and separate them into categories. When they engage themselves in housing decisions they think about a housing budget, when they consume they think about a consumption budget and when they consider gambling or whether to accept or reject an offered gamble, they consider a gambling budget. For the purposes of this paper I focus only on the gambling category and a budget assigned to it, which I call gambling wealth. Gambling wealth was proposed informally by Foster and Hart (2009). They define gambling wealth as that part of total wealth designated only for taking gambles. Alternatively, if \(\underline {W}\) is wealth designated for the purposes of living, housing and consumption, then gambling wealth is what is left over.

Agents who gamble more have higher gambling wealth and therefore the buying and selling price gap for a given lottery is smaller than for less experienced individuals

If an object is treated narrowly the disparity should be higher; if it is integrated into a wider set of objects the disparity should decrease (Hanemann 1991)

Buying/selling price gap is more pronounced when objects of choice are not monetary, e.g. coffee mugs. The more specific or narrowly defined the object of choice is, the more pronounced wealth or income effects are.
The attractive feature of all these explanations is that they are all within the expected utility framework. The only novel thing is the narrow framing with which the expected utility model is supplemented. Naturally, a theory of endogenous wealth determination would be much appreciated to make this kind of explanation fully testable. At this point, however, it is necessary to design experiments to test the gambling wealth hypothesis. An example of a very simple such experiment is the following. In the first stage subjects are given a small amount of money for trading in gambles. Given different lotteries, buying price and selling price for them is elicited for each subject. In the second stage subjects are given more money for trading in gambles and again buying and selling price are elicited. Alternatively, instead of giving the subjects more money it is possible to scale down or up the lotteries being played. If subjects exhibit constant relative risk aversion it should be equivalent to increasing or decreasing initial wealth. If the gambling wealth explanation for the gap between buying and selling price is correct, then the gap should decrease when subjects are given more gambling money or if the lotteries are scaled down without changing gambling wealth.
Assuming the approach is valid then I propose the following experiment for calibrating gambling wealth. The experiment should be designed to test risk attitudes^{5} and at the same time to elicit selling and buying prices for lotteries. Given the data it is then easy to calculate the underlying wealth level. This is then interpreted as gambling wealth. More precisely, given observed buying and selling price for a given lottery I can calculate a wealthrelative risk aversion coefficient pair which is consistent with these prices.
The gambling wealth hypothesis is promising. However, until there is no theory of endogenous gambling wealth determination, it cannot be fully testable. In the next subsection I discuss another concept which is related to gambling wealth—the concept of pocket cash by Fudenberg and Levine (2006). The advantage of the pocket cash idea is that there is a theory of pocket cash determination. I would like to show in what respect pocket cash and gambling wealth are similar and in what respect they differ.
Pocket cash
The idea of pocket cash money in the context of gambling decisions is the following. If a small gamble is offered, an individual decides whether to take it or not on the basis of what he has in his pockets, and hence pocket cash will be the relevant wealth level for this decision. If, on the other hand, the same individual is offered a big gamble the values of which significantly exceed what he has in his pockets, the individual decides more carefully taking into account his lifetime wealth. I will introduce now some details of the model.
 bank subperiod

consumption is not possible

wealth y _{ t } is divided between savings s _{ t }, which remain in the bank, and pocket cash x _{ t } which is carried to the nightclub

 nightclub subperiod

consumption 0 ≤ c _{ t } ≤ x _{ t } is determined and x _{ t } − c _{ t } is returned to the bank at the end of the period

wealth next period is y _{ t + 1} = R(s _{ t } + x _{ t } − c _{ t })


At the nightclub in the first period there is a small probability the agent will be offered a choice between several lotteries.
 The model predicts then that:

for large gambles risk aversion is relative to wealth

for small gambles it is relative to pocket cash

Gambling wealth vs. pocket cash
An interesting feature of the Fudenberg and Levine (2006) approach is the following. Fudenberg and Levine (2006) estimate pocket cash to be roughly in the range of 20100 dollars. This is very similar to the range of gambling wealth values, which are consistent with the experimental evidence on the buying/selling price gaps as indicated in Table 1. It is striking that the two entirely different approaches result in a very similar range of values for the underlying variable.
In spite of the similarities, the two concepts are nevertheless different from each other. To illustrate the difference I will now discuss what testable predictions are obtained in the Rabin (2000) paradox according to the dual self model with pocket cash and what testable predictions are obtained according to the gambling wealth approach.

if a risk averse agent with wealth ≤350000 rejects the lottery (105, 1/2;−100, 1/2)

then he should reject the lottery (635000, 1/2;−4000, 1/2) at wealth level 340000

lottery 1 small  reject if pocket cash < 2100

lottery 2 large  accept if total wealth higher than 4035

reject lottery 1

reject lottery 2
Rabin’s paradox in the literature
Although, in this paper, I adopt the lines of Rubinstein (2006), and focus on the assumption of consequentialism, there have been other explanations for Rabin’s paradox in the literature. PalaciosHuerta and Serrano (2006) claim that it is the assumption of rejecting small gambles over a large range of wealth levels, which should be questioned as it does not match realworld behavior. In particular they show that the assumption that an expected utility maximizer turns down a given evenodds gamble with gain and loss for a given range of wealth levels implies that there exists a positive lower bound on the coefficient of absolute risk aversion which can be calculated exactly. This lower bound is an additional assumption imposed on a utility function. PalaciosHuerta and Serrano (2006) show that in Rabin’s examples this lower bound turns out to be very high, which is not consistent with empirical evidence. Another paper which addresses Rabin’s critique of expected utility is Cox and Sadiraj (2006). In a similar spirit to Rubinstein (2006), they claim that Rabin in fact criticizes the expected utility model of terminal wealth, in which there is a single preference relation over final wealth consequences. They show that the expected utility of income model, in which prizes are interpreted as changes in wealth levels, does not exhibit Rabin’s paradoxical behavior. In order to enable the dependence of preference over income on initial wealth, they design an expected utility of initial wealth and income model. They demonstrate that such a model can withstand Rabin’s critique if initial wealth is not additive to income in the utility function. Safra and Segal (2008) on the other hand point out that paradoxes of the kind considered by Rabin are not specific to expected utility theory. They show that they can be constructed in nonexpected utility theories as well.
3 Preference reversal versus buying/selling price reversal
Proposition 3.1
For a given decreasing absolute risk aversion utility function and any wealth level W, buying/selling price reversal is possible.
Proof
In the Appendix. □
Since expected utility theory imposes rather strong consistency assumptions, the result above suggests that the possibility of preference reversal is less rational than the related possibility of buying/selling price reversal or preference reversal B. The following two propositions clarify the meaning of “less rational” beyond the strength of consistency requirements argument.
Proposition 3.2
Suppose that preferences of the decision maker are continuous, monotonic and that the preference reversal pattern is fixed for the range of wealth \(W\in [\underline {w}, \bar w]\) . Then arbitrage opportunities exist.
Proof
In the Appendix. □
Hence preference reversal allows arbitrage. On the other hand buying/selling price reversal or preference reversal B does not allow arbitrage.
Proposition 3.3
Buying/selling price reversal does not allow arbitrage.
Proof
In the Appendix. □
The analysis shows that buying/selling price reversal, or preference reversal B, is more rational than traditional preference reversal in two respects—it is consistent with expected utility and it does not allow arbitrage.
Preference reversal B or buying/selling price reversals occur within expected utility theory. However it does not mean that they have to be meaningful. If buying/selling price gap is small, then these two reversals are not meaningful i.e. they can occur theoretically but the scope for their occurrence is negligible. For these reversals to be meaningful, it is necessary for buying/selling price gap to be nonnegligible. Testing of preference reversal B might be therefore relevant only if wealth is interpreted narrowly, either as gambling wealth or pocket cash. It is not relevant if the doctrine of consequentialism is maintained. I will illustrate this fact in the following example.
Example 1
In the above example, there is an interval (50, 75) of wealth for which buying/selling price reversal (and hence also preference reversal B) occurs^{6}. This is the common pattern that buying/selling price reversal occurs only at small wealth and only in the limited interval of wealth. The reason is that for such reversal to occur the $bet has to have higher variance and higher expected value. Then as wealth becomes large and the buying and selling price approach the expected value of a lottery, these prices for the $bet have to increase above those of the Pbet. For smaller values of wealth, the CRRA decision maker would become very risk averse, so he will be solely preoccupied by the gamble’s variance. Therefore, both selling and buying price for the $bet are below those of the Pbet. Technically speaking, notice that if W ^{∗} denotes the wealth level at which selling price of x and y are equal, i.e. S(W ^{∗}, x) = S(W ^{∗}, y) = S ^{∗}, then from definition it also holds that S ^{∗} = B(W ^{∗} + S ^{∗}, x) = B(W ^{∗} + S ^{∗}, y), so that B(W, x) crosses B(W, y) at W = W ^{∗} + S ^{∗}. Hence the interval for which buying/selling price reversal occurs is of length S ^{∗} exactly.
4 Discussion on consequentialism
 Traditional expected utility models

Expected utility assuming consequentialism (Usually identified with “expected utility” by much of the behavioral literature.)

Expected utility with gambling wealth^{9}

Expected utility of wealth changes^{10}

 Traditional expected utility models
 Expected utility assuming consequentialism

Lottery payoffs defined as total wealth positions

Single preference relation over lifetime wealth: e.g. $10mln.

Accept if \((\$10 \ 000 \ 012, 0.5;9 \ \$999 \ 990, 0.5) \succsim \$10\ 000 \ 000\)

Problem: (Rabin 2000) paradox

 EU with gambling wealth

Treat decisions narrowly, reinterpret W, e.g. gambling wealth instead of total wealth

Accept if \((\$112, 0.5; \$90, 0.5) \succsim \$100\)

E.g. relative changes (returns) and log utility function^{11}

Accept because 1.12×0.9>1

 EU of wealth changes

Accept if \((\$12, 0.5;\$10, 0.5) \succsim \$0 \)

E.g. nominal changes and CARA utility function

Examples: Game theory, Auction theory


 Behavioral expected utility models
 Prospect Theory without probability weighting

The same as EU of wealth changes + loss aversion, reflection effect, etc.

If reference point current wealth then accept if \((\$12, 0.5;\$10, 0.5) \succsim \$0\)

 Model of disappointment aversion

Reference point: current wealth + E(L)

Accept if ($11, 0.5; − $11, 0.5) ≿ −$1

 Regret theory

Reference point: other lottery


 NonEU models

NonEU models are not linear in probabilities
 Examples:

Probability weighting in PT

Cumulative probability weighting in CPT

Yaari (1987) dual theory of choice under risk

Configural weighting, etc.


5 Expected utility over wealth changes
I argued above that dropping the assumption of consequentialism and interpreting initial wealth narrowly as something much smaller than total wealth can explain large buying and selling price gaps but cannot explain traditional preference reversal involving WTA valuations. But in my approach, the consequentialist view, while dropped, is replaced with something different only in quantitative and not qualitative terms. I allow initial wealth to be small enough with a claim that it changes the interpretation of initial wealth. This approach changes things only slightly in the following sense: While in the case of total wealth interpretation of initial wealth, an individual’s preferences over wealth changes are induced from his preferences over final wealth levels, in the case of gambling wealth, preferences over changes in gambling wealth are induced from preferences over gambling wealth levels. In quantitative terms, these two situations may be very different. However in a structural or qualitative sense, these two situations differ only marginally. A much more fundamental departure from the consequentialism assumption would be the following—suppose that the decision maker derives preference over lotteries not from preferences over the resulting total position of whatever budget he might consider, but directly from changes to this budget implied by accepting the lottery in question. This approach was first undertaken by Kahneman and Tversky (1979) in their seminal contribution. In prospect theory, which was then proposed as an alternative to expected utility theory, the decision maker has preferences directly over wealth changes relative to a reference point. Rubinstein (2006) suggests that a similar approach is possible without having to depart from expected utility theory by reinterpreting lottery prizes as monetary change and not as total position. In what follows I will illustrate formally that in such an approach both a large buying and selling price gap and preference reversal are possible for a wide class of utility functions defined over wealth changes.
5.1 WTA/WTP disparity for preferences over wealth changes
Proposition 5.1
Suppose that U(x) < −U(−x) for all x > 0. Then given any nondegenerate lottery x, the following holds: WTA(x) > WTP(x).
Proof
The above proposition is quite general. In what follows I will analyze two special cases. In the original version of prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky 1979) the reference point was required to be constant. Hence it would be impossible to define willingness to accept in this formulation. Schmidt et al. (2008) proposed a so called ”thirdgeneration prospect theory” in which the reference point is allowed to be random. They defined willingness to accept and willingness to pay essentially as in Eqs. 6 and 7 and showed first that a willingness to pay and willingness to accept disparity is possible in prospect theory mainly due to loss aversion. Below I will show my version of their result which shows that under certain symmetry conditions the WTA/WTP gap occurs solely due to loss aversion. Consider the prospect theory utility function with an imposed symmetry condition of the following form:
Assumption 2
where λ > 0 denotes the loss attitude parameter. If λ > 1, there is loss aversion. Furthermore, a function u(⋅) is absolutely continuous, bounded, strictly increasing with u(0) = 0 and concave on its domain.
The above utility function is concave for gains, convex for losses and for λ = 1, it is symmetric around (0, 0), meaning that risk loving for losses is of the same magnitude as risk aversion for gains. For λ > 1, there is loss aversion, which means that a given gain brings less satisfaction than the dissatisfaction from the same loss.
Observe that this utility function satisfies U(x) < −U(−x) for all x > 0 if and only if λ > 1. Hence for λ greater than one, meaning that there is loss aversion, willingness to accept for any nondegenerate lottery exceeds willingness to pay by Proposition 5.1. In fact for a utility function of the above form an even stronger result holds, which I state below:
Proposition 5.2
Proof
The above proposition shows that in prospect theory, a willingness to accept/willingness to pay disparity may be explained solely by loss aversion.
An even simpler version of this result obtains in case of the prospect theory utility function without risk aversion.
Assumption 3
Proposition 5.3
Proof
In fact utility function defined by Assumption 3 is a special case of an overall concave utility function for which a similar result holds:
Proposition 5.4
Proof
The conclusion of this section is that the gap between willingness to accept and willingness to pay in the case of preferences defined over wealth changes and not wealth levels may be explained by a kind of a general loss aversion, which is defined by the requirement: u(x) < −u(−x), for all x > 0. This requirement defines a wide class of available utility functions and in particular, an S shaped utility function with sufficient level of loss aversion as well as a traditional overall concave utility function over the whole real line satisfies this condition.
5.2 Preference reversal for preferences over wealth changes
First, recall that traditional preference reversal is not possible within expected utility when preferences are defined over wealth levels, irrespective of whether these wealth levels are interpreted narrowly as levels of gambling wealth, for instance, or whether they are interpreted traditionally as total wealth levels. On the other hand, when preferences are defined over wealth changes, it turns out that traditional preference reversal is possible. Schmidt et al. (2008) shows that preference reversal may occur in third generation prospect theory. They calibrate for which values of parameters a quite general (and yet parametrized) version of prospect theory is compatible with preference reversal. Below I will show that for a very simple version of third generation prospect theory, preference reversal is obtained as a generic element.
Let x ≡ (x, p) and y ≡ (y, q) be two prospects such that y > x > 0 and 1>p > q > 0. Lottery x will be called the Pbet and lottery y will be called the $bet. In what follows I want to demonstrate that preference reversal is possible.
Lemma 3
Proof
Proposition 5.5
Given a utility function satisfying Assumption 3, preference reversal is possible if and only if λ > 1
Proof
Preference reversal occurs when the decision maker chooses the Pbet in a direct choice but assigns higher willingness to accept to the $bet. In terms of the model, preference reversal occurs when px > qy and WTA(y)>WTA(x). By Lemma 3, I know that if px = qy then WTA(y)>WTA(x) ⇔ λ > 1. Since utility function u(⋅) is continuous, it follows that willingness to accept as a function of a given lottery is also continuous. Hence changing the lottery slightly changes willingness to accept for it slightly. It follows that if initially px = qy and I increase p or x slightly or decrease q or y slightly, the new lottery x will be preferred to a new lottery y in a direct choice and yet it will remain true that willingness to accept for a new lottery y will still be higher than willingness to accept for a new lottery x.
Again, a more general result for concave functions is possible:
Lemma 4
Proof
Lemma 5 (Three strings lemma)
Proposition 5.6
Suppose that px = qy. Preference reversal occurs if u(⋅)^{12} is strictly concave.
Proof
6 Concluding remarks
Expected utility theory by Von Neumann and Morgenstern (1944) imposes a set of consistency assumptions on choices among lotteries. The theory is used in a large part of economic theory, including the famous Nash existence theorem. However there is a lot of mainly experimental evidence that people often violate (von Neumann and Morgenstern 1944) axioms, in particular the most crucial among them—independence. In response to this evidence economists started to question expected utility theory and investigate other models of choice which describe human behavior better. However, since these new theories usually have lower consistency requirements being imposed on the admissible choice, they necessarily also have lower prediction power and less scope for testable predictions. Moreover, they also have weaker normative appeal, since the decision makers violating expected utility axioms are vulnerable to money pumps. It is therefore an important issue to identify patterns of choices and behavior which are consistent with expected utility and contrast them with those which are impossible within expected utility. In order to perform this task it is important to identify expected utility theory in its bare form and in particular separate it from the doctrine of consequentialism. More precisely, it is necessary to abandon the common practice of interpreting the wealth variable as total wealth position common to all decisions.
If one is willing to accept that wealth underlying gambling decisions is separated from total wealth so that gambling decisions are framed narrowly, important implications can be derived. If gambling wealth is small enough, which should be tested in an experiment, then selling price for a lottery can be significantly greater than buying price without going beyond the expected utility model, and the extent of this difference can be as high as the one found in experiments. Also, the famous (Rabin 2000) paradox can be resolved, suggesting that expected utility is not guilty here, but rather the doctrine of consequentialism.
Still, traditional preference reversal is not possible even if wealth is allowed to be small. If expected utility is to be regarded as a positive theory, it is definitely a negative result. However, if one is willing to accept expected utility as a good normative theory, then the same result is very useful. It informs us then that preference reversal is not rational. It is confirmed further by the result proved in the paper, that individuals exhibiting preference reversal are susceptible to arbitrage under certain mild conditions. The same kind of arbitrage, which I prefer to call strong arbitrage, is not possible within expected utility. What might be interesting is that another kind of preference reversal, which I call preference reversal B and which involves buying price in place of selling price and otherwise is the same as the traditional preference reversal, is possible within expected utility and is not vulnerable to arbitrage as shown in the paper.
Footnotes
 1.
“Small” here means “small relative to lifetime wealth”.
 2.
Experimentally, in order to confirm preference reversal one must show that the asymmetry described above occurs more often than the opposite kind of asymmetry, i.e. when the $bet is preferred in a direct choice but the Pbet gets a higher selling price.
 3.
For an extensive discussion on consequentialism, its precise meaning and different alternatives to it, refer to Section 4.
 4.
The CRRA utility function is of the form given in Eq. 3.
 5.
Characterization results from Lewandowski (2011) are useful here.
 6.
The following holds S(50, y) = S(50, x) and B(75, y) = B(75, x).
 7.
Many of the aforementioned references focused their discussion around the Rabin (2000) paradox, but these arguments are more general and refer to the whole debate about expected utility and behavioral theories.
 8.
This example shows that reference dependence in prospect theory is not a departure from expected utility theory as a mathematical theory. On the other, probability weighting, which is the second building block of prospect theory, clearly constitutes a departure from expected utility theory, because irrespective of the interpretation, nonlinearity in the objectively given probabilities violates the independence assumption of expected utility theory.
 9.
The term introduced in Foster and Hart (2009) and adopted throughout this paper.
 10.
Used in general in much of game theory and in particular in the auction literature.
 11.
Notice that reference dependence is not a novel feature of Prospect Theory, but it exists in expected utility models when prizes are interpreted as returns—relative reference dependence compared to nominal reference dependence in Prospect Theory.
 12.
Strictly increasing, continuous and u(0) = 0.
Notes
Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Pascal Courty, Fernando VegaRedondo, Roberto Serrano, Robert Sugden, David Levine, John Sutton, Kip Viscusi and audiences of many seminars for help, support, advice and guidance.
Open Access
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.
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