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Editor's Choice Should Governments Use a Declining Discount Rate in Project Analysis?

Author

Listed:
  • Kenneth J. Arrow
  • Maureen L. Cropper
  • Christian Gollier
  • Ben Groom
  • Geoffrey M. Heal
  • Richard G. Newell
  • William D. Nordhaus
  • Robert S. Pindyck
  • William A. Pizer
  • Paul R. Portney
  • Thomas Sterner
  • Richard S. J. Tol
  • Martin L. Weitzman

Abstract

Should governments use a discount rate that declines over time when evaluating the future benefits and costs of public projects? The argument for using a declining discount rate (DDR) is simple: if the discount rates that will be applied in the future are uncertain but positively correlated, and if the analyst can assign probabilities to these discount rates, then the result will be a declining schedule of certainty-equivalent discount rates. There is a growing empirical literature that estimates models of long-term interest rates and uses them to forecast the DDR schedule. However, this literature has been criticized because it lacks a connection to the theory of project evaluation. In benefit-cost analysis, the net benefits of a project in year t (in consumption units) are discounted to the present at the rate at which society would trade consumption in year t for consumption in the present. With simplifying assumptions, this leads to the Ramsey discounting formula, which results in a declining certainty-equivalent discount rate if the rate of growth in consumption is uncertain and if shocks to consumption are correlated over time. We conclude that the arguments in favor of a DDR are compelling and thus merit serious consideration by regulatory agencies in the United States. (JEL: D61)

Suggested Citation

  • Kenneth J. Arrow & Maureen L. Cropper & Christian Gollier & Ben Groom & Geoffrey M. Heal & Richard G. Newell & William D. Nordhaus & Robert S. Pindyck & William A. Pizer & Paul R. Portney & Thomas Ste, 2014. "Editor's Choice Should Governments Use a Declining Discount Rate in Project Analysis?," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 8(2), pages 145-163.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:renvpo:v:8:y:2014:i:2:p:145-163.
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Christian Gollier, 2012. "Pricing the Planet's Future: The Economics of Discounting in an Uncertain World," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9894.
    2. Geoffrey Heal & Antony Millner, 2013. "Discounting under Disagreement," NBER Working Papers 18999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 1996. "The Equity Premium: It's Still a Puzzle," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(1), pages 42-71, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Cited by:

    1. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben, 2016. "How certain are we about the certainty-equivalent longterm social discount rate?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 67258, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Fridstrøm, Lasse & Østli, Vegard, 2017. "The vehicle purchase tax as a climate policy instrument," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 168-189.
    3. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2016. "The Importance of Global Extinction in Climate Change Policy," Global Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 7(3), pages 315-322, September.
    4. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben & Panopoulou, Ekaterini & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2015. "Declining discount rates and the Fisher Effect: Inflated past, discounted future?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 73(C), pages 32-49.
    5. Fesselmeyer, Eric & Liu, Haoming & Salvo, Alberto, 2016. "How Do Households Discount over Centuries? Evidence from Singapore's Private Housing Market," IZA Discussion Papers 9862, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben, 2016. "How certain are we about the certainty-equivalent long term social discount rate?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 152-168.
    7. Strulik, Holger, 2017. "Hyperbolic discounting and the time-consistent solution of three canonical environmental problems," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 319, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    8. Katz, Yuri A., 2017. "Value of the distant future: Model-independent results," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 466(C), pages 269-276.
    9. repec:eee:jeeman:v:84:y:2017:i:c:p:1-17 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:foreco:v:31:y:2018:i:c:p:27-38 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:eee:enepol:v:115:y:2018:i:c:p:616-630 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Kathrin Goldmann, 2017. "Time-declining risk-adjusted social discount rates for transport infrastructure planning," Working Papers 22, Institute of Transport Economics, University of Muenster.
    13. Emmerling, Johannes & Groom, Ben & Wettingfeld, Tanja, 2017. "Discounting and the representative median agent," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 161(C), pages 78-81.
    14. Flowers, Mallory E. & Smith, Matthew K. & Parsekian, Ara W. & Boyuk, Dmitriy S. & McGrath, Jenna K. & Yates, Luke, 2016. "Climate impacts on the cost of solar energy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 264-273.
    15. repec:eee:ecolec:v:146:y:2018:i:c:p:520-535 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Marshall Burke & Melanie Craxton & Charles D. Kolstad & Chikara Onda, 2016. "Some Research Challenges In The Economics Of Climate Change," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 7(02), pages 1-14, May.
    17. Chuan-Zhong Li & Ranjula Bali Swain, 2016. "Growth, Water Resilience, and Sustainability: A DSGE Model Applied to South Africa," Water Economics and Policy (WEP), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 2(04), pages 1-23, December.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis

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