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Discounting Inside the Washington D.C. Beltway

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Author Info

  • Coleman Bazelon
  • Kent Smetters

Abstract

This article focuses on how the choice of discount rate can dramatically affect policy choices. These policies include whether to build a bridge, whether to privatize a Power Marketing Administration which sells electricity generated by government-owned facilities such as dams, how much money should be spent on early-childhood education, or options for reforming Social Security. The ongoing challenge is to discount future costs or benefits in a way that matches the project's level of riskiness. We begin by discussing the underlying issues in choosing an appropriate discount rate. We then discuss the variety of different discount rates that are actually used by various Washington policymakers and the biases they often generate.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.13.4.213
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 13 (1999)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 213-228

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:13:y:1999:i:4:p:213-228

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.13.4.213
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  1. Geanakoplos, J. & Mitchell, O.S. & Zeldes, S.P., 1998. "Social Security Money's Worth," Papers 98-05, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
  2. Feldstein, Martin & Liebman, Jeffrey B., 2002. "Social security," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 32, pages 2245-2324 Elsevier.
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  4. Merton, Robert C., 1997. "Applications of Option-Pricing Theory: Twenty-Five Years Later," Nobel Prize in Economics documents 1997-1, Nobel Prize Committee.
  5. Antonio Rangel & Richard Zeckhauser, 2001. "Can Market and Voting Institutions Generate Optimal Intergenerational Risk Sharing?," NBER Chapters, in: Risk Aspects of Investment-Based Social Security Reform, pages 113-152 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Hartman, Robert W., 1990. "One thousand points of light seeking a Issue: A case study of CBO's search for a discount rate policy," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages S3-S7, March.
  7. Black, Fischer & Scholes, Myron S, 1973. "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 637-54, May-June.
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  11. Robert C. Merton, 1973. "Theory of Rational Option Pricing," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 4(1), pages 141-183, Spring.
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Cited by:
  1. Pizer, William & Newell, Richard, 1998. "Regulating Stock Externalities Under Uncertainty," Discussion Papers dp-99-10-rev, Resources For the Future.
  2. Pizer, William A. & Kopp, Raymond, 2005. "Calculating the Costs of Environmental Regulation," Handbook of Environmental Economics, in: K. G. Mäler & J. R. Vincent (ed.), Handbook of Environmental Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 25, pages 1307-1351 Elsevier.
  3. Pizer, William & Newell, Richard, 2000. "Discounting the Distant Future: How Much Do Uncertain Rates Increase Valuations?," Discussion Papers dp-00-45, Resources For the Future.
  4. Newell, Richard G. & Pizer, William A., 2004. "Uncertain discount rates in climate policy analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 519-529, March.
  5. Popp, David, 2005. "Lessons from patents: Using patents to measure technological change in environmental models," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(2-3), pages 209-226, August.
  6. William A. Pizer & David Popp, 2007. "Endogenizing Technological Change: Matching Empirical Evidence to Modeling Needs," NBER Working Papers 13053, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Pennacchi, George, 2006. "Deposit insurance, bank regulation, and financial system risks," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-30, January.
  8. Pennacchi, George G., 2005. "Risk-based capital standards, deposit insurance, and procyclicality," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 432-465, October.
  9. Jouini, Elyès & Napp, Clotilde & Nocetti, Diego, 2008. "Properties of the Social Discount Rate in a Benthamite Framework with Heterogeneous Degrees of Impatience," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/260, Paris Dauphine University.
  10. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Discounting Dollars, Discounting Lives: Intergenerational Distributive Justice and Efficiency," NBER Working Papers 12239, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. David Popp, 2004. "R&D Subsidies and Climate Policy: Is There a "Free Lunch"?," NBER Working Papers 10880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Guadalupe Souto Nieves, 2003. "El descuento social," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 165(2), pages 99-126, June.
  13. Liqun Liu, 2005. "The Multi-Period Cost-Benefit Rule with Mobile Capital and Distorted Labor," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 145-158, March.
  14. Alicia H. Munnell & Alex Golub-Sass & Richard W. Kopcke & Anthony Webb, 2009. "What Does It Cost To Guarantee Returns?," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-4, Center for Retirement Research, revised Feb 2009.
  15. Deborah Lucas & Marvin Phaup, 1975. "The Cost of Risk to the Government and Its Implications for Federal Budgeting," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring and Managing Federal Financial Risk, pages 29-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Daniel Piazalo, 2000. "Poland's Membership in the European Union: An Analysis with a Dynamic Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) Model," LICOS Discussion Papers 8900, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.

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