Uncertain growth and the value of the future
For environmental problems such as global warming future costs must be balanced against present costs. This is traditionally done using an exponential function with a constant discount rate, which reduces the present value of future costs. The result is highly sensitive to the choice of discount rate and has generated a major controversy as to the urgency for immediate action. We study analytically several standard interest rate models from finance and compare their properties to empirical data. From historical time series for nominal interest rates and inflation covering 14 countries over hundreds of years, we find that extended periods of negative real interest rates are common, occurring in many epochs in all countries. This leads us to choose the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck model, in which real short run interest rates fluctuate stochastically and can become negative, even if they revert to a positive mean value. We solve the model in closed form and prove that the long-run discount rate is always less than the mean; indeed it can be zero or even negative, despite the fact that the mean short term interest rate is positive. We fit the parameters of the model to the data, and find that nine of the countries have positive long run discount rates while five have negative long-run discount rates. Even if one rejects the countries where hyperinflation has occurred, our results support the low discounting rate used in the Stern report over higher rates advocated by others.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1311.4068. 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: (arXiv administrators)
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.