# Econ 2148, fall 2017 Statistical decision theory

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Statistical Decision Theory
Econ 2148, fall 2017 Statistical decision theory
Maximilian Kasy
Department of Economics, Harvard University
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Statistical Decision Theory
Takeaways for this part of class
1. A general framework to think about what makes a “good” estimator, test, etc.
2. How the foundations of statistics relate to those of microeconomic theory.
3. In what sense the set of Bayesian estimators contains most “reasonable” estimators.
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Statistical Decision Theory
Examples of decision problems
Decide whether or not the hypothesis of no racial discrimination in job interviews is true Provide a forecast of the unemployment rate next month Provide an estimate of the returns to schooling Pick a portfolio of assets to invest in Decide whether to reduce class sizes for poor students Recommend a level for the top income tax rate
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Statistical Decision Theory
Agenda
Basic deﬁnitions Optimality criteria Relationships between optimality criteria Analogies to microeconomics Two justiﬁcations of the Bayesian approach
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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
Components of a general statistical decision problem
Observed data X A statistical decision a
A state of the world θ A loss function L(a, θ ) (the negative of utility) A statistical model f (X |θ ) A decision function a = δ (X )
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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
How they relate
underlying state of the world θ ⇒ distribution of the observation X . decision maker: observes X ⇒ picks a decision a her goal: pick a decision that minimizes loss L(a, θ ) (θ unknown state of the world) X is useful ⇔ reveals some information about θ ⇔ f (X |θ ) does depend on θ .
problem of statistical decision theory:
ﬁnd decision functions δ which “make loss small.”
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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
Graphical illustration
Figure: A general decision problem

observed data X

decision function a=δ(X)

decision a

statistical model
X~f(x,θ)

state of the world θ

loss L(a,θ)

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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
Examples
investing in a portfolio of assets: X : past asset prices a: amount of each asset to hold θ : joint distribution of past and future asset prices L: minus expected utility of future income
decide whether or not to reduce class size: X : data from project STAR experiment a: class size θ : distribution of student outcomes for different class sizes L: average of suitably scaled student outcomes, net of cost
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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
Practice problem For each of the examples on slide 2, what are
the data X , the possible actions a,
the relevant states of the world θ , and
reasonable choices of loss function L?
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Statistical Decision Theory Basic deﬁnitions
Loss functions in estimation
goal: ﬁnd an a
which is close to some function µ of θ . for instance: µ(θ ) = E[X ]
loss is larger if the difference between our estimate and the true value is larger Some possible loss functions: 1. squared error loss,
L(a, θ ) = (a − µ(θ ))2
2. absolute error loss,
L(a, θ ) = |a − µ(θ )|
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Decision TheoryDecisionUtilityAssetsPortfolio