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Inequality and Social Discounting

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  • Emmanuel Farhi
  • Iván Werning

Abstract

We explore steady-state inequality in an intergenerational model with altruistically linked individuals who experience privately observed taste shocks. When the welfare function depends only on the initial generation, efficiency requires immiseration: inequality grows without bound and everyone’s consumption converges to zero. We study other efficient allocations in which the welfare function values future generations directly, placing a positive but vanishing weight on their welfare. The social discount factor is then higher than the private one, and for any such difference we find that consumption exhibits mean reversion and that a steady-state, cross-sectional distribution for consumption and welfare exists, with no one trapped at misery.

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Farhi & Iván Werning, 2007. "Inequality and Social Discounting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 365-402.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:115:y:2007:p:365-402
    DOI: 10.1086/518741
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1989. "Intergenerational Altruism, Dynastic Equilibria and Social Welfare," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 56(1), pages 119-128.
    2. Thomas, Jonathan & Worrall, Tim, 1990. "Income fluctuation and asymmetric information: An example of a repeated principal-agent problem," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 367-390, August.
    3. Stephen E. Spear & Sanjay Srivastava, 1987. "On Repeated Moral Hazard with Discounting," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 54(4), pages 599-617.
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