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“Intergenerational justice when future worlds are uncertain”

  • Joaquim Silvestre
  • Joaquim Silvestre
  • John E. Roemer
  • Joaquim Silvestre

    (Department of Economics, University of California Davis)

Let there be a positive (exogenous) probability that, at each date, the human species will disappear. We postulate an Ethical Observer (EO) who maximizes intertemporal welfare under this uncertainty, with expected-utility preferences. Various social welfare criteria entail alternative von Neumann- Morgenstern utility functions for the EO: utilitarianism, Rawlsianism, and an extension of the latter that corrects for the size of population. Our analysis covers, first, a cake-eating economy, where the utilitarian and Rawlsian recommend the same allocation. Second, a productive economy with education and capital. There, however, the recommendations of the two Ethical Observers are in general different. But when the utilitarian program diverges, then it is optimal for the extended Rawlsian to ignore the uncertainty concerning the possible disappearance of the human species in the future. We conclude discussing the implications for intergenerational welfare maximization in the presence of global warming.

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Paper provided by University of California, Davis, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 94.

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Length: 48
Date of creation: 26 Mar 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cda:wpaper:09-4
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  1. Llavador, Humberto & Roemer, John E. & Silvestre, Joaquim, 2011. "“A dynamic analysis of human welfare in a warming planet”," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1607-1620.
  2. Basu, Kaushik & Mitra, Tapan, 2007. "Utilitarianism for infinite utility streams: A new welfare criterion and its axiomatic characterization," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 133(1), pages 350-373, March.
  3. Dasgupta, Partha, 1974. "On some alternative criteria for justice between generations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 405-423, November.
  4. Phelps, Edmund S & Riley, J G, 1978. "Rawlsian Growth: Dynamic Programming of Capital and Wealth for Intergeneration "Maximin" Justice," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(1), pages 103-20, February.
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