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Should we discount the far-distant future at its lowest possible rate?

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  • GOLLIER Christian

Abstract

In this paper, we elaborate on an idea initially developed by Weitzman (1998) that justifies taking the lowest possible discount rate for far-distant future cash flows. His argument relies on the arbitrary assumption that when the future rate of return of capital (RRC) is uncertain, one should invest in any project with a positive expected net present value. We examine an economy with a risk-averse representative agent facing an uncertain evolution of the RRC. In this context, we characterize the socially efficient stochastic consumption path, which allows us in turn to use the Ramsey rule to characterize the term structure of socially efficient discount rates. We show that Weitzman's claim is qualitatively correct if shocks on the RRC are persistent. On the contrary, in the absence of any serial correlation in the RRC, the term structure of discount rates should be flat. --

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Paper provided by LERNA, University of Toulouse in its series LERNA Working Papers with number 08.30.274.

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Date of creation: Nov 2008
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Handle: RePEc:ler:wpaper:08.30.274

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  1. Gollier, Christian, 2004. "Maximizing the expected net future value as an alternative strategy to gamma discounting," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 85-89, June.
  2. Wolfgang Buchholz & Jan Schumacher, 2008. "Discounting the Long-Distant Future: A Simple Explanation for the Weitzman-Gollier-Puzzle," CESifo Working Paper Series 2357, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Hepburn, Cameron & Koundouri, Phoebe & Panopoulou, Ekaterini & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2009. "Social discounting under uncertainty: A cross-country comparison," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 140-150, March.
  4. Ekaterini Panopoulou & B. Groom & P. Koundouri & Theologos Pantelidis, 2005. "Discounting the distant future: How much does model selection affect the certainty equivalent rate?," Economics, Finance and Accounting Department Working Paper Series n1480105, Department of Economics, Finance and Accounting, National University of Ireland - Maynooth.
  5. Martin L. Weitzman, 1998. "Gamma Discounting," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1843, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  6. GOLLIER Christian & KOUNDOURI Phoebe & PANTELIDIS Theologos, 2008. "Declining Discount Rates : Economic Justifications and Implications for Long-Run Policy," LERNA Working Papers 08.17.261, LERNA, University of Toulouse.
  7. Newell, Richard G. & Pizer, William A., 2003. "Discounting the distant future: how much do uncertain rates increase valuations?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 52-71, July.
  8. Gollier, Christian, 2004. "The Consumption-Based Determinants of the Term Structure of Discount Rates," IDEI Working Papers 296, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  9. Hepburn, Cameron & Groom, Ben, 2007. "Gamma discounting and expected net future value," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 99-109, January.
  10. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Time Horizon and the Discount Rate," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 463-473, December.
  11. Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "Why the Far-Distant Future Should Be Discounted at Its Lowest Possible Rate," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 201-208, November.
  12. Pazner, Elisha A & Razin, Assaf, 1974. "A Model of Investment under Interest Rate Uncertainty," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 15(3), pages 798-802, October.
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Cited by:
  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. Freeman, Mark C., 2009. "Yes, we should discount the far-distant future at its lowest possible rate: a resolution of the Weitzman-Gollier puzzle," Economics Discussion Papers 2009-42, Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
  3. Martin L. Weitzman, 2009. "Risk-Adjusted Gamma Discounting," NBER Working Papers 15588, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Traeger, Christian P., 2013. "Discounting under uncertainty: Disentangling the Weitzman and the Gollier effect," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 573-582.
  5. Gollier, Christian, 2009. "Expected Net Present Value, Expected Net Future Value, and the Ramsey Rule," IDEI Working Papers 557, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  6. Iverson, Terrence, 2013. "Minimax regret discounting," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 598-608.

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