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Discounting Inside the Washington D.C. Beltway


  • Coleman Bazelon
  • Kent Smetters


This article focuses on how the choice of discount rate can dramatically affect policy choices. These policies include whether to build a bridge, whether to privatize a Power Marketing Administration which sells electricity generated by government-owned facilities such as dams, how much money should be spent on early-childhood education, or options for reforming Social Security. The ongoing challenge is to discount future costs or benefits in a way that matches the project's level of riskiness. We begin by discussing the underlying issues in choosing an appropriate discount rate. We then discuss the variety of different discount rates that are actually used by various Washington policymakers and the biases they often generate.

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  • Coleman Bazelon & Kent Smetters, 1999. "Discounting Inside the Washington D.C. Beltway," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(4), pages 213-228, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:13:y:1999:i:4:p:213-228 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.13.4.213

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    1. Pizer, William A. & Popp, David, 2008. "Endogenizing technological change: Matching empirical evidence to modeling needs," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 2754-2770, November.
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    8. Pizer, William A. & Kopp, Raymond, 2005. "Calculating the Costs of Environmental Regulation," Handbook of Environmental Economics,in: K. G. Mäler & J. R. Vincent (ed.), Handbook of Environmental Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 25, pages 1307-1351 Elsevier.
    9. Pennacchi, George G., 2005. "Risk-based capital standards, deposit insurance, and procyclicality," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 432-465, October.
    10. Hansen Jason & Lipow Jonathan, 2013. "Accounting for systematic risk in benefit-cost analysis: a practical approach," Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, De Gruyter, vol. 4(3), pages 361-373, December.
    11. David Popp, 2004. "R&D Subsidies and Climate Policy: Is There a "Free Lunch"?," NBER Working Papers 10880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Newell, Richard G. & Pizer, William A., 2004. "Uncertain discount rates in climate policy analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 519-529, March.
    13. 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.
    14. Daniel Piazalo, 2000. "Poland's Membership in the European Union: An Analysis with a Dynamic Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) Model," LICOS Discussion Papers 8900, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    15. Duan, Hong-Bo & Fan, Ying & Zhu, Lei, 2013. "What’s the most cost-effective policy of CO2 targeted reduction: An application of aggregated economic technological model with CCS?," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 866-875.
    16. Deborah Lucas & Marvin Phaup, 1975. "The Cost of Risk to the Government and Its Implications for Federal Budgeting," NBER Chapters,in: Measuring and Managing Federal Financial Risk, pages 29-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Liqun Liu, 2005. "The Multi-Period Cost-Benefit Rule with Mobile Capital and Distorted Labor," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 12(2), pages 145-158, March.
    18. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Discounting Dollars, Discounting Lives: Intergenerational Distributive Justice and Efficiency," NBER Working Papers 12239, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H43 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Project Evaluation; Social Discount Rate


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