Interpreting Sustainability in Economic Terms: Dynamic Efficiency Plus Intergenerational Equity
AbstractEconomists have expended considerable effort to develop economically meaningful definitions of the somewhat elusive concept of “sustainability.” We relate such a definition of sustainability to well known concepts from neoclassical economics, in particular, potential Pareto improvements (in the Kaldor-Hicks sense) and inter-personal compensation. In the inter-temporal realm, we find that dynamic efficiency is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a notion of sustainability that has normative standing as a goal for public policy. We define sustainability as dynamic efficiency plus intergenerational equity. Further, we argue that it is not unreasonable for economists to focus on the efficiency element, leaving equity considerations to the political process. The analogy to the relationship between potential Pareto improvements and (intragenerational) transfers can facilitate discussions about sustainability, both within the economics community and as part of an interdisciplinary discourse, and makes the basic concepts easier to operationalize.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Resources For the Future in its series Discussion Papers with number dp-02-29.
Date of creation: 01 Aug 2002
Date of revision:
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- Stavins, Robert N. & Wagner, Alexander F. & Wagner, Gernot, 2003. "Interpreting sustainability in economic terms: dynamic efficiency plus intergenerational equity," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 79(3), pages 339-343, June.
- Stavins, Robert & Wagner, Alexander & Wagner, Gernot, 2002. "Interpreting Sustainability in Economic Terms: Dynamic Efficiency Plus Intergenerational Equity," Working Paper Series rwp02-018, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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