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Should we Discount the Far-Distant Future at its Lowest Possible Rate?

  • Gollier, Christian

In this paper, we elaborate on an idea initially developed by Weitzman (1998) that justifies taking the lowest possible discount rate for far-distant future cash flows. His argument relies on the arbitrary assumption that when the future rate of return of capital (RRC) is uncertain, one should invest in any project with a positive expected net present value. We examine an economy with a risk-averse representative agent facing an uncertain evolution of the RRC. In this context, we characterize the socially efficient stochastic consumption path, which allows us in turn to use the Ramsey rule to characterize the term structure of socially efficient discount rates. We show that Weitzman's claim is qualitatively correct if shocks on the RRC are persistent. On the contrary, in the absence of any serial correlation in the RRC, the term structure of discount rates should be flat.

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Article provided by Kiel Institute for the World Economy in its journal Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal.

Volume (Year): 3 (2009)
Issue (Month): ()
Pages: 1-14

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Handle: RePEc:zbw:ifweej:7610
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  1. Christian Gollier, 2009. "Expected Net Present Value, Expected Net Future Value, and the Ramsey Rule," CESifo Working Paper Series 2643, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Pazner, Elisha A & Razin, Assaf, 1974. "A Model of Investment under Interest Rate Uncertainty," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 15(3), pages 798-802, October.
  3. Wolfgang Buchholz & Jan Schumacher, 2008. "Discounting the Long-Distant Future: A Simple Explanation for the Weitzman-Gollier-Puzzle," CESifo Working Paper Series 2357, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Hepburn, Cameron & Koundouri, Phoebe & Panopoulou, Ekaterini & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2009. "Social discounting under uncertainty: A cross-country comparison," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 140-150, March.
  5. Gollier, Christian & Koundouri, Phoebe & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2008. "Declining Discount Rates: Economic Justifications and Implications for Long-Run Policy," IDEI Working Papers 525, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
  6. Christian Gollier, 2005. "The Consumption-Based Determinants of the Term Structure of Discount Rates," CESifo Working Paper Series 1375, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. Pizer, William & Newell, Richard, 2000. "Discounting the Distant Future: How Much Do Uncertain Rates Increase Valuations?," Discussion Papers dp-00-45, Resources For the Future.
  8. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Time Horizon and the Discount Rate," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 463-473, December.
  9. 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.
  10. Ekaterini Panopoulou & B. Groom & P. Koundouri & Theologos Pantelidis, 2005. "Discounting the distant future: How much does model selection affect the certainty equivalent rate?," Economics, Finance and Accounting Department Working Paper Series n1480105, Department of Economics, Finance and Accounting, National University of Ireland - Maynooth.
  11. Martin L. Weitzman, 1998. "Gamma Discounting," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1843, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  12. Gollier, Christian, 2004. "Maximizing the expected net future value as an alternative strategy to gamma discounting," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 85-89, June.
  13. Hepburn, Cameron & Groom, Ben, 2007. "Gamma discounting and expected net future value," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 99-109, January.
  14. Elisha A. Pazner & Assaf Razin, 1976. "On Expected Present Value Vs. Expected Future Value: Further Remarks," Discussion Papers 196, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
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