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Public Investment as Commitment

  • Reyer Gerlagh
  • Matti Liski

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.

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File URL: http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/page/portal/DocBase_Content/WP/WP-CESifo_Working_Papers/wp-cesifo-2011/wp-cesifo-2011-01/cesifo1_wp3330.pdf
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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 3330.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3330
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  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. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2004. "The Social Discount Rate," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1257-1268, December.
  3. 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.
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