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Optimisation for Microeconomists

William Matcham
August 14, 2014

Contents
1 Introduction to Optimisation
1.1 Basic Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2 First Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2
2
3

2 Continuous Optimisation

Introduction
These notes are formed primarily from the excellent lecture notes for the LSE course MA208,
Optimisation Theory. Many thanks therefore go to Luitgard Veraart, Bernhard Von Stengel
and Jan van den Heuvel for producing such an excellent set of notes to learn optimisation
from. We almost exactly follow chapters 1 and 3 from these notes, leaving out 2 and 4 as
they are not of interest to the micro theoretician. The main reference for that course is the
textbook Sundaram (1996).

Introduction to Optimisation

1.1

Basic Problems

Consider a function f : D 7 R, where D =


6 0.
The function f is the objective function and D the constraint set.
The optimisation problems are
Maximise f (x) subject to x D
Minimise f (x) subject to x D

(1.1)
(1.2)

Definition 1. A solution to (1.1) is an element x D such that


f (x ) f (x),

x D

If x exists, we say that f attains the global maximum on D at x .


We call x a global maximiser of f on D.
We call f (x ) the global maximum of f on D
The set of all solutions to (1.1) is denoted


argmax {f (x) : x D} := {x D : f (x ) f (x),

x D}

Definition 2. A solution to (1.2) is an element x D such that


f (x ) f (x),

x D

If x exists, we say that f attains the global minimum on D at x .


We call x a global maximiser of f on D.
We call f (x ) the global minimum of f on D
The set of all solutions to (1.2) is denoted


argmin {f (x) : x D} := {x D : f (x ) f (x),

x D}

Notice that there is a difference between a solution and the solutions, or the set of
solutions. Furthermore, notice that the global maximum, if it exists, is unique, whereas the
global maximiser need not be. Also realise that quite often there will be no solution at all;
the set of solutions is the empty set in that case.
Example 3
2

D = [0, ),

f : D 7 R, f (x) = x

argmax {f (x) : x D} =

argmin {f (x) : x D} = {0}. In this case, the unique global minimiser is x = 0
and the global minimum is f (0) = 0.

Example 4
f : D 7 R, f (x) = x2

argmax {f (x) : x D} = {1, 1}. Here, the global maximisers are x = 1 and the
global maximum is f (1) = f (1) = 1.

argmin {f (x) : x D} = {0}. In this case, the unique global minimiser is x = 0
and the global minimum is f (0) = 0.

D = [1, 1],

Example 5
D = R,

f : D 7 R,

f (x) = 5

argmax {f (x) : x D} = R. Here, every point is a global maximiser and the global
maximum is 5.

argmin {f (x) : x D} = R. In this case, every point in R is a global minimiser and
the global minimum is 5.
Example 6

D = {A, B, C},

f : D 7 R,

0
f (x) = 7

if x = A
if x = B .
if x = C


argmax {f (x) : x D} = {B}. The unique global maximiser is B, and the global
maximum is f (B) = 7.

argmax {f (x) : x D} = {A}. The unique global minimiser is A, and the global
minimum is f (A) = 0.

1.2

First Results

The following results are easy to prove.


Theorem 7. Let x D. Then
x is a maximiser on f in D x is a minimiser on -f in D

Proof. We have
x is a maximiser on f in D x0 D, f (x) f (x0 )
x0 D, f (x) f (x0 )
is a minimiser on -f in D
Theorem 8. Suppose that D =
6 is finite. Then every function f : D 7 R attains a
maximum on D.
Proof. We prove this result by induction on |D|.
S
Theorem 9. Suppose we can write D as a finite union of sets, D = ki=1 Di . Suppose that
f attains a maximum on each and every Di . Then f attains a maximum on D.
Proof. Suppose that
i = 1, . . . , k,

xi Di

s.t. x Di ,

f (xi ) f (x)

We are required to show that

k
[

Di

s.t. x

i=1

k
[

Di ,

f (
x) f (x)

i=1

First, define the set





D = xi : i {1, . . . , k}
Then by Theorem 8, since D is finite, the function
f : D 7 R attains aSmaximum on D.
Sk
Denote this element x. Since x D and D i=1 Di , we have that x ki=1 Di . Then by
definition,
f (
x) f (xi ), i = 1, . . . , k
and
f (xi ) f (x),

x Di

Putting these together gives


f (
x) f (x),

k
[

Di

i=1

As required.
The counterexample here is provided by the singleton sets Di = {i}, for i N. Since each
of these sets is finite, the function f (x) = x attains a maximum on every Di , yet it is clear
that the function does not attain a maximum on their union N.

Continuous Optimisation