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Intergenerational equity and the social discount rate

Listed author(s):
  • Helen Scarborough

Recent modelling of the costs and benefits of climate change has renewed debate regarding assumptions for the social discount rate in analysing the impacts of environmental change. Previous literature suggests two key factors influence estimates of the social discount rate: the rate of pure time preference and the elasticity of marginal utility of future consumption. These components of the social discount rate reinforce the linkages between the choice of social discount rate and intergenerational distribution. This paper addresses the question of the relationship between intergenerational equity and the social discount rate and promotes the application of intergenerational distributional weights as a means of incorporating intergenerational equity preferences in policy analysis. Intergenerational equity-adjusted social discount rates are derived as a means of decomposing the intergenerational equity aspect of the social discount rate. The work has significant policy implications for projects with long time frames given the sensitivity of Cost Benefit Analysis outcomes to decisions regarding the social discount rate.

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Article provided by Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in its journal Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Volume (Year): 55 (2011)
Issue (Month): 2 (04)
Pages: 145-158

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ajarec:v:55:y:2011:i:2:p:145-158
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  1. Scarborough, Helen, 2011. "Intergenerational equity and the social discount rate," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 55(2), June.
  2. Kenneth Arrow & Partha Dasgupta & Lawrence Goulder & Gretchen Daily & Paul Ehrlich & Geoffrey Heal & Simon Levin & Karl-Göran Mäler & Stephen Schneider & David Starrett & Brian Walker, 2004. "Are We Consuming Too Much?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(3), pages 147-172, Summer.
  3. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Discounting an uncertain future," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(2), pages 149-166, August.
  4. W. Viscusi & Joel Huber & Jason Bell, 2008. "Estimating discount rates for environmental quality from utility-based choice experiments," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 199-220, December.
  5. Jack Knetsch, 2005. "Gains, Losses, and the US-EPA Economic Analyses Guidelines: A Hazardous Product?," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 32(1), pages 91-112, 09.
  6. 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.
  7. Krinsky, Itzhak & Robb, A Leslie, 1986. "On Approximating the Statistical Properties of Elasticities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 68(4), pages 715-719, November.
  8. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 339-357, April.
  9. 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.
  10. Schelling, Thomas C, 1995. "Intergenerational discounting," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(4-5), pages 395-401.
  11. 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.
  12. Rick Baker & Andrew Barker & Alan Johnston & Michael Kohlhaas, 2008. "The Stern Review: an assessment of its methodology," Staff Working Papers 0801, Productivity Commission, Government of Australia.
  13. Broome, John, 2006. "Weighing Lives," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199297702.
  14. Scarborough, Helen & Bennett, Jeff, 2008. "Estimating intergenerational distribution preferences," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(4), pages 575-583, July.
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