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Policymaking for posterity

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  • Lawrence Summers
  • Richard Zeckhauser

    ()

Abstract

Policymaking for posterity involves current decisions with distant consequences. Contrary to conventional prescriptions, we conclude that the greater wealth of future generations may strengthen the case for preserving environmental amenities; lower discount rates should be applied to the far future, and special effort should be made to avoid actions that impose costs on future generations. -- Posterity brings great uncertainties. Even massive losses, such as human extinction, however, do not merit infinite negative utility. Given learning, greater uncertainties about damages could increase or decrease the optimal level of current mitigation activities. -- Policies for posterity should anticipate effects on: alternative investments, both public and private; the actions of other nations; and the behaviors of future generations. Such effects may surprise. -- This analysis blends traditional public finance and behavioral economics with a number of hypothetical choice problems.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

Volume (Year): 37 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 (December)
Pages: 115-140

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Handle: RePEc:kap:jrisku:v:37:y:2008:i:2:p:115-140

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Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100299

Related research

Keywords: Discounting; Posterity; Altruism; Comet problem; Trolley problem; Climate change; Global warming; Uncertainty; Learning; Reaction function; D90; D64; Q54; D81;

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References

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  1. Martin L. Weitzman, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 703-724, September.
  2. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
  3. Christian Gollier, 2008. "Discounting with fat-tailed economic growth," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 171-186, December.
  4. Gollier & Jullien & Treich, 2000. "Scientific progress and irreversibility : an economic interpretation of the Precautionary principle," Working Papers 156240, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France.
  5. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Levine's Working Paper Archive 7656, David K. Levine.
  6. Cropper, Maureen L & Aydede, Sema K & Portney, Paul R, 1994. "Preferences for Life Saving Programs: How the Public Discounts Time and Age," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 8(3), pages 243-65, May.
  7. Gollier, Christian & Treich, Nicolas, 2003. " Decision-Making under Scientific Uncertainty: The Economics of the Precautionary Principle," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 77-103, August.
  8. William D. Nordhaus, 2007. "A Review of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 686-702, September.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Robert N. Stavins, 2011. "The Problem of the Commons: Still Unsettled after 100 Years," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(1), pages 81-108, February.
  2. Zeckhauser, Richard Jay & Kousky, Carolyn & Rostapshova, Olga V & Toman, Michael, 2010. "Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes," Scholarly Articles 4454155, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  3. Christopher, Robert & Zeckhauser, Richard Jay, 2011. "The Methodology of Normative Policy Analysis," Scholarly Articles 4669672, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  4. Gernot Wagner & Richard Zeckhauser, 2012. "Climate policy: hard problem, soft thinking," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 110(3), pages 507-521, February.
  5. Keith Coble & Jayson Lusk, 2010. "At the nexus of risk and time preferences: An experimental investigation," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 67-79, August.
  6. Pindyck, Robert S., 2012. "Uncertain outcomes and climate change policy," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 289-303.
  7. Robert, Christopher & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2010. "The Methodology of Positive Policy Analysis," Working Paper Series rwp10-041, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  8. Aline Chiabai & Ibon Galarraga & Anil Markandya & Unai Pascual, 2011. "The Equivalency Principle for Discounting the Value of Natural Assets: An Application to an Investment Project in the Basque Coast," Working Papers 2011-10, BC3.
  9. Pedro Conceição & Yanchun Zhang, 2010. "Discounting in the context of climate change economics: the policy implications of uncertainty and global asymmetries," Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies - SEEPS, vol. 12(1), pages 31-57, June.
  10. Louis Kaplow & David Weisbach, 2011. "Discount rates, social judgments, individuals’ risk preferences, and uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 42(2), pages 125-143, April.
  11. Richard Zeckhauser & W. Viscusi, 2008. "Discounting dilemmas: Editors’ introduction," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 95-106, December.

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