People have instinctual short sightedness. It is a primal trait. Each passing day adds risks to the realisation of future events. Our probability of dying increases, and the waiting time captures multiple risks of the event not occurring at all. In economese, that’s why we discount the future.
However, it is not all that simple. Behavioural economists have shown that people don’t discount in the expected rational way. Instead of treating each year into the future as capturing the same risk, each consecutive year is treated as less risky than the previous year – a concept known as hyperbolic discounting.
For instance, when offered the choice between $50 now and $100 a year from now, many people will choose the immediate $50. However, given the choice between $50 in five years or $100 in six years almost everyone will choose $100 in six years, even though that is the same choice seen at five years' greater distance
Why does the RBA need to know this?
The strategy of a gradual withdrawal of monetary stimulus by incrementally raising interest rates is meant to allow people time to adjust to higher interest rate levels. However, if people discount the likelihood and impact of each further interest rate rise, they will not adjust until it is too late anyway. The instinct of the masses will be to all but ignore the highly probably increases in interest rates in the near future.
This may be one reason for the long lags between execution and outcome in monetary policy.
A quarter of a percent increase in rates every month (1% over four months) is going to hardly register in our animal minds – each change is too marginal, and probability and impact of each future change is heavily discounted. A 1% immediate increase followed by no change for 4 months would actually change behaviour in the way the incremental approach is intended.
Have you heard people who have just bought a new house talk about the inevitable interest rate hikes – “We’ll deal with that when the time comes”. They are simply acting on instinct.