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Public Investment as Commitment

Author

Listed:
  • Reyer Gerlagh
  • Matti Liski

Abstract

Should public assets such as infrastructure, education, and the environment earn the same return as private investments? We consider if time-inconsistent decision-makers can gain from institutions that enforce cost-benefit rules on large projects that influence the economy as a whole. Long-term public investments provide commitment to current preferences, leading to investment biases in such assets. The institutionalized cost-benefit prudence eliminates such biases but we show that this behavioral rule has no general social value: it implements Pareto efficiency if and only if preferences are time-consistent, and decreases welfare otherwise. We find that the long-term cost-benefit prudence is fundamentally about income transfers to the future, implying that efficient behavioral rules should target savings directly rather than the division of current investment resources.

Suggested Citation

  • Reyer Gerlagh & Matti Liski, 2011. "Public Investment as Commitment," CESifo Working Paper Series 3330, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3330
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    File URL: http://www.cesifo-group.de/DocDL/cesifo1_wp3330.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Arrow, Kenneth J. & Cropper, Maureen L. & Eads, George C. & Hahn, Robert W. & Lave, Lester B. & Noll, Roger G. & Portney, Paul R. & Russell, Milson & Schmalensee, Richard & Smith, V. Kerry & Stavins, , 1997. "Is there a role for benefit-cost analysis in environmental, health, and safety regulation?," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(02), pages 195-221, May.
    2. Saez-Marti, Maria & Weibull, Jorgen W., 2005. "Discounting and altruism to future decision-makers," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 122(2), pages 254-266, June.
    3. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2004. "The Social Discount Rate," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1257-1268, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    Cited by:

    1. Hiraguchi, Ryoji, 2016. "On a two-sector endogenous growth model with quasi-geometric discounting," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 26-35.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    public investments; cost-benefit analysis; inconsistent preferences;

    JEL classification:

    • H43 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Project Evaluation; Social Discount Rate
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth

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