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On the Underestimation of the Precautionary Effect in Discounting

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  • Christian Gollier

Abstract

Using the extended Ramsey rule, the socially efficient rate is the difference between a wealth effect and a precautionary effect of economic growth. This second effect is increasing in the degree of uncertainty affecting the future. In the literature, it is usually calibrated by estimating the historical volatility of the growth of GDP in a specific country. In this paper, I show that using cross-section data tends to magnify uncertainty, and to reduce the discount rate. Using a data set covering 190 countries over the period 1969-2010, I justify using a much smaller discount rate around 0.7% per year for time horizons exceeding 40 years.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 3536.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3536

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Keywords: discount rate; prudence; climate change;

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  1. Gollier, Christian & Weitzman, Martin, 2009. "How Should the Distant Future be Discounted When Discount Rates are Uncertain?," IDEI Working Papers 588, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  2. Miles S. Kimball, 1989. "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large," NBER Working Papers 2848, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Saul Pleeter & John T. Warner, 2001. "The Personal Discount Rate: Evidence from Military Downsizing Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 33-53, March.
  4. Gollier, Christian, 2008. "Discounting with Fat-Tailed Economic Growth," IDEI Working Papers 523, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  5. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Time Horizon and the Discount Rate," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 463-473, December.
  6. Dreze, Jacques H. & Modigliani, Franco, 1972. "Consumption decisions under uncertainty," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 308-335, December.
  7. 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.
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