# The Envelope Theorem 1

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1 John Nachbar Washington University April 2, Introduction. The Envelope Theorem 1 The Envelope theorem is a corollary of the Karush-Kuhn-Tucker theorem (KKT) that characterizes changes in the value of the objective function in response to changes in the parameters in the problem. For example, in a standard cost minimization problem for a firm, the Envelope theorem characterizes changes in cost in response to changes in input prices or output quantities. 2 The Envelope Theorem with no binding constraints. Consider the following parameterized version of a differentiable MAX problem with no (binding) constraints, max f(x, q) x where q R L is a vector of parameters. The parametrized MIN problem is analogous. Let φ(q) give the (or at least, a) optimal x for a given q. The value function f v is defined by f v (q) = f(φ(q), q). The following is the Envelope theorem for this unconstrained problem. In theorem statement, D x f refers to the partial derivatives of f with respect to the x variables and D q f refers to the partial derivatives of f with respect to the q variables. Theorem 1. Fix a parametrized differentiable MAX or MIN problem. Let U R L be open, let φ : U R N be differentiable, and suppose that, for every q U, φ(q) is a solution to the MAX or MIN problem. Let f v : U R be defined by f v (q) = f(φ(q), q). Finally, suppose that the standard first order condition, D x f(φ(q), q) = 0, holds for every q U. Then for any q U, letting x = φ(q ), Df v (q ) = D q f(x, q ). 1 cbna. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial- ShareAlike 4.0 License. 1

2 Proof. By the Chain Rule 2 Df v (q ) = D x f(x, q )Dφ(q ) + D q f(x, q ). Since D x f(x, q ) = 0, the result follows. 3 An example with no binding constraints. Consider the cost minimization problem, min a,b R s.t. a + b ab y a, b 0 To interpret, a is capital, b is labor, and y is output. I assume (for simplicity) that the rental price of capital and the wage for labor both equal 1, so that total cost is a + b. If y > 0, any feasible a and b must be strictly positive, hence the non-negativity constraints do not bind at the solution. On the other hand, the production constraint ab y binds (since cost is strictly increasing in both a and b, and since the production function is continuous), hence I can rewrite this constraint as b = y2 a > 0. Substituting, let the (modified) objective function be f(a, y) = a + y2 a. I can thus convert the above constrained minimization problem into an unconstrained minimization problem min a R a + y2 a. (With the qualification that I have to check that indeed a > 0 at any proposed solution.) In terms of notation, here a is playing the role of x and y is playing the role of q. 2 Formally, define r : U R N+L by r(q) = (φ(q), q). Then f v (q) = f(r(q)). By the Chain Rule, Df v (q ) = Df(x, q )Dr(q ) = [ D xf(x, q ) D qf(x, q ) ] [ Dφ(q ) I = D xf(x, q )Dφ(q ) + D qf(x, q ). ] as claimed. Many of the other Chain Rule applications are similar. 2

3 At y = y, the first order condition D a f(a, y ) = 0 gives, 1 y 2 = 0, a 2 hence y = y (which is strictly positive), hence φ(y) = a. For this particular application, call the value function C l (since the value function here is what is often called long-run cost). Then C l (y) = 2y. Verifying the Envelope theorem, DC l (y ) = D y f(a, y ), since D y f(a, y ) = 2y a = 2. Next, note that for a fixed (I won t try to justify here in why a might be fixed), the value, a + y2 a, is the minimum cost of producing y (this is how I constructed the unconstrained problem in the first place). This can be interpreted as short-run cost, and accordingly I write, C s (a, y) = a + y2 a. Short-run and long-run cost are equal when a = φ(y): C l (y) = C s (φ(y), y). By the Envelope theorem, then, DC l (y ) = D y C s (a, y ). For any given value of a, the graph of C s is strictly above that of C l (i.e., shortrun cost is strictly higher than long-run cost) except at output level y, since at that output level, the level of the fixed factor a is optimal. Moreover, when y = y, so that φ(y ) = a, the two graphs are tangent; their slopes are equal. One says that the graph of C l is the (lower) envelope of the graph of C s, hence the name Envelope theorem. Graphing C l and a few of the C s will help you visualize what is going on. All of this generalizes. If C s is the short-run cost of producing a vector of outputs y given input prices and a fixed subvector of inputs a, and if a is optimal in the long-run when y = y, then DC l (y ) = D y C s (a, y ). 3

4 4 The General Envelope Theorem. Consider the following parameterized version of a differentiable MAX problem, max x f(x, q) s.t. g 1 (x, q) 0,. g K (x, q) 0. where q R L is a vector of parameters. For example, in a consumer maximization problem, the parameters are usually prices and income. The parameterized MIN problem is analogous. Again let φ(q) give the (or at least, a) optimal x for a given q and let the value function be defined by f v (q) = f(φ(q), q). Theorem 2 (Envelope Theorem). Fix a differentiable parameterized MAX or MIN problem. Let U R L be open, let φ : U R N be differentiable, and suppose that, for every q U, φ(q) is a solution to the MAX or MIN problem. Let f v : U R be defined by f v (q) = f(φ(q), q). Let J(q) be the set of indices of constraints that are binding at φ(q). Finally, suppose that the conclusion of KKT holds for every q U. Fix any q U, let φ(q ) = x, let J = J(q ), and let λ k be the associated KKT multipliers. Then Df v (q ) = D q f(x, q ) k J λ k D qg k (x, q ). Proof. By the Chain Rule (see the proof of Theorem 1), Df v (q ) = D x f(x, q )Dφ(q ) + D q f(x, q ). By KKT, D x f(x, q ) = k J λ k D xg k (x, q ). Substituting, Df v (q ) = k J λ k D xg k (x, q )Dφ(q ) + D q f(x, q ). For any k J, let γ k (q) = g k (φ(q), q). For a MAC problem, since k is binding at q, γ k (q ) = 0 while for all other q U, γ k (q) 0 (since φ(q) must be feasible to be a solution). Therefore, q maximizes γ k on U. (For a MIN problem, the argument is almost the same but q minimizes γ k on U.) Therefore Dγ k (q ) = 0, hence, by the Chain Rule, 0 = Dγ k (q ) = D x g k (x, q )Dφ(q ) + D q g k (x, q ). 4

5 Hence, D x g k (x, q )Dφ(q ) = D q g k (x, q ), hence, since λ k 0, λ k D xg k (x, q )Dφ(q ) = λ k D qg k (x, q ). Substituting this expression for λ k D xg k (x, q )Dφ(q ) into the above expression for Df v (q ) yields the result. 5 An example with constraints. Consider the problem max x 1 3 ln(x 1) ln(x 2) s.t. p x m, x 0 Where x R N, p R N ++ and m R ++. Think of this as a utility maximization problem with parameters being prices p 0 and income m > 0. Grinding through the Kuhn-Tucker calculation, at prices p and m the solution is, [ x = m /(3p 1 ) (2m )/(3p 2 ) Thus, at general (p, m), the solution function φ is given by, [ ] m/(3p φ(p, m) = 1 ). (2m)/(3p 2 ) ]. Also λ 1 = 1 m and the other KKT multipliers (on the x 0 constraint) equal zero. The value function is then determined by f v (p, m) = f(φ(p, m)), hence f v (p, m) = 1 ( ) m 3 ln + 2 ( ) 2m 3p 1 3 ln 3p 2 = ln(m) 1 3 ln(p 1) 2 3 ln(p 2) + 1 ( ) 1 3 ln + 2 ( ) ln. 3 Note that this makes some intuitive sense; in particular f v is increasing in m and decreasing in p 1 and p 2. By direct calculation, at the point (p, m ), Df v (p, m ) = f v p 1 (p, m ) f v p 2 (p, m ) f v m (p, m ) 5 = 1/(3p 1 ) 2/(3p 2 ) 1/m.

6 On the other hand, by the Envelope theorem, since the parameters p and m don t appear in the objective function, and with the first constraint written in standard form as g 1 (x, p, m) = p x m 0: Df v (p, m ) = λ 1 x 1 λ 1 x 2 λ 1 Substitute in the value of x and λ found above and you will confirm that these two expressions for Df v (p, m ) are indeed equal. 6 The constraint term and the interpretation of the λ k. Consider a MAX problem and focus on K parameters with the following special form. Parameter q k affects only constraint k and it does it additively: g k (x) q k 0. Increasing q k weakens the constraint. Then, from the Envelope theorem, at q k = 0,. D qk f v (0) = λ k ( 1) = λ k, for any k J. That is, λ k is the marginal value of relaxing binding constraint k. The argument for MIN problems is almost identical. For k / J, set λ k = 0. For some versions of KKT, this is actually a requirement of KKT. For KKT as I have stated it, it is more in the nature of a convention. In any event, the interpretation is that if constraint k is not binding then the marginal value of relaxing constraint k is zero. 6

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