IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Expected utility theory and the tyranny of catastrophic risks

  • Buchholz, Wolfgang
  • Schymura, Michael

Expected Utility theory is not only applied to individual choices but also to social decisions, e.g. in cost–benefit analysis of climate change policy measures that affect future generations and hence incorporate an ethical dimension. In this context the crucial question arises whether EU theory is able to deal with “catastrophic risks”, i.e. risks of high, but very unlikely losses, in an ethically appealing way. In this paper we show that this is not the case. Rather, if in the framework of EU theory a plausible level of risk aversion is assumed, a “tyranny of catastrophic risk” (TCR) emerges, i.e. project evaluation is dominated by the catastrophic event. Or, contrary to that, with low degrees of risk aversion, the catastrophic risk eventually has no impact at all (“negligence of catastrophic risk” (NCR)) which is ethically not acceptable as well.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092180091200119X
Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Ecological Economics.

Volume (Year): 77 (2012)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 234-239

as
in new window

Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:77:y:2012:i:c:p:234-239
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/ecolecon

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Buchholz, Wolfgang & Schumacher, Jan, 2010. "Discounting and welfare analysis over time: Choosing the [eta]," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 372-385, September.
  2. Chichilnisky, Graciela, 2000. "An axiomatic approach to choice under uncertainty with catastrophic risks," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 221-231, July.
  3. Chichilnisky, Graciela, 2009. "The topology of fear," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(12), pages 807-816, December.
  4. Rabin, Matthew, 2000. "Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt731230f8, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  5. Stefan Baumgärtner & Christian Becker & Karin Frank & Birgit Müller & Martin F. Quaas, 2008. "Relating the Philosophy and Practice of Ecological Economics. The Role of Concepts, Models, and Case Studies in Inter- and Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research," Working Paper Series in Economics 75, University of Lüneburg, Institute of Economics.
  6. Partha Dasgupta, 2008. "Discounting climate change," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 141-169, December.
  7. Robert S. Pindyck, 2011. "Fat Tails, Thin Tails, and Climate Change Policy," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 5(2), pages 258-274, Summer.
  8. Daniel Ellsberg, 1961. "Risk, Ambiguity, and the Savage Axioms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 643-669.
  9. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1989. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: A Theoretical Framework," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(4), pages 937-69, July.
  10. Shaw, W. Douglass & Woodward, Richard T., 2008. "Why environmental and resource economists should care about non-expected utility models," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 66-89, January.
  11. 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.
  12. Frank Krysiak, 2009. "Sustainability and its relation to efficiency under uncertainty," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 41(2), pages 297-315, November.
  13. Ikefuji, M. & Laeven, R.J.A. & Magnus, J.R. & Muris, C.H.M., 2010. "Expected Utility and Catastrophic Risk in a Stochastic Economy-Climate Model," Discussion Paper 2010-122, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  14. Simon Dietz & David Maddison, 2009. "New Frontiers in the Economics of Climate Change," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 43(3), pages 295-306, July.
  15. Johan Brännmark & Nils-Eric Sahlin, 2010. "Ethical theory and the philosophy of risk: first thoughts," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(2), pages 149-161, March.
  16. Martin L. Weitzman, 2011. "Fat-Tailed Uncertainty in the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 5(2), pages 275-292, Summer.
  17. William D. Nordhaus, 2011. "The Economics of Tail Events with an Application to Climate Change," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 5(2), pages 240-257, Summer.
  18. Martin L. Weitzman, 2009. "On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 1-19, February.
  19. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  20. Edward A. Parson, 2007. "The Big One: A Review of Richard Posner's Catastrophe: Risk and Response," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(1), pages 147-213, March.
  21. 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.
  22. Partha Dasgupta, 2011. "The Ethics of Intergenerational Distribution: Reply and Response to John E. Roemer," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 50(4), pages 475-493, December.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:77:y:2012:i:c:p:234-239. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Shamier, Wendy)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.