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Intergenerational transfers and the social discount rate

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  • Richard Howarth
  • Richard Norgaard

Abstract

This paper investigates the relationship between intergenerational asset transfers and the choice of the discount rate for use in cost-benefit analysis in a model of a competitive overlapping generations economy constrained by a socially managed exhaustible resource. Provided that there are no distortions in capital markets and that all agents hold perfect foresight, cost-benefit techniques will result in a Pareto efficient resource allocation if the discount rate is set equal to the market rate of interest. But since the path of the interest rate depends on the level of intergenerational transfers, cost-benefit techniques do not ensure a socially desirable distribution of welfare between generations; a social optimum will result only if intergenerational transfers are properly chosen and enforced. Decentralized private altruism may result in intergenerational transfers that both present and future individuals would agree are too small if members of the present generation attach positive weight to the general welfare of future generations, not simply their personal descendants. In a world where intergenerational transfers are non-optimal, second-best policy-making may imply a constrained optimum that is inefficient. Together, these findings suggest that cost-benefit analysis is at best a partial criterion to policy formulation that should be used only in conjunction with ethical principles that define the proper distribution of welfare between present and future generations. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists in its journal Environmental and Resource Economics.

Volume (Year): 3 (1993)
Issue (Month): 4 (August)
Pages: 337-358

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Handle: RePEc:kap:enreec:v:3:y:1993:i:4:p:337-358

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Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100263

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Keywords: exhaustible resource allocation; intergenerational equity; intergenerational transfers; overlapping generations models; social discount rate;

References

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  1. Theodore Graham-Tomasi & C. Ford Runge & William F. Hyde, 1986. "Foresight and Expectations in Models of Natural Resource Marketsz," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 62(3), pages 234-249.
  2. Lind, Robert C., 1990. "Reassessing the government's discount rate policy in light of new theory and data in a world economy with a high degree of capital mobility," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages S8-S28, March.
  3. Richard Howarth, 1992. "Intergenerational justice and the chain of obligation," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 1(2), pages 133-140, May.
  4. Andrew B. Abel & B. Douglas Bernheim, 1992. "Fiscal Policy With Impure Intergenerational Altruism," NBER Working Papers 2613, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Nick Hanley, 1992. "Are there environmental limits to cost benefit analysis?," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 33-59, January.
  6. Barro, Robert J, 1974. "Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1095-1117, Nov.-Dec..
  7. Olivier Jean Blanchard & Stanley Fischer, 1989. "Lectures on Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262022834, December.
  8. Arnold C. Harberger, 1978. "On the Use of Distributional Weights in Social Cost-Benefit Analysis," NBER Chapters, in: Research in Taxation, pages 87-120 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Dasgupta,P. S. & Heal,G. M., 1985. "Economic Theory and Exhaustible Resources," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521297615.
  10. Howarth, Richard B & Norgaard, Richard B, 1992. "Environmental Valuation under Sustainable Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 473-77, May.
  11. Howarth, Richard B., 1991. "Intergenerational competitive equilibria under technological uncertainty and an exhaustible resource constraint," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 225-243, November.
  12. Arrow, Kenneth J & Lind, Robert C, 1970. "Uncertainty and the Evaluation of Public Investment Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 364-78, June.
  13. Richard B. Howarth & Richard B. Norgaard, 1990. "Intergenerational Resource Rights, Efficiency, and Social Optimality," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 66(1), pages 1-11.
  14. Kimball, Miles S., 1987. "Making sense of two-sided altruism," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 301-326, September.
  15. Howarth, Richard B., 1991. "Intertemporal equilibria and exhaustible resources: an overlapping generations approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 237-252, December.
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