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The Malleability of Undiscounted Utilitarianism as a Criterion of Intergenerational Justice

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  • Geir B. Asheim
  • Wolfgang Buchholz

Abstract

Undiscounted utilitarianism as a criterion of intergeneration justice has been questioned for different reasons: It has been argued (1) that any complete ordering of allocations with an infinite number of generations guaranteeing an optimal allocation must involve discounting, and (2) that undiscounted utilitarianism subjects the present generation to heavy demands and leads to outcomes that do not appeal to our ethical intuitions. In a previous work (Asheim, Buchholz & Tungodden, forthcoming in J. Env. Econ. Man.) we have shown that equal treatment of different generations is not incompatible with the existence of maximal allocations, given that one considers technologies that are productive (in a given sense). In this paper we consider the second argument. We show within three classes of technologies (linear, Ramsey and Dasgupta-Heal-Solow tech-nologies) that undiscounted utilitarianism is so malleable that any efficient and non-decreasing allocation can be the unique optimum given the utilitarian criterion, provided that the utility function is appropriately chosen. Hence, undiscounted utilitarianism allows for optimal allocations and need not lead to unequal distributions imposing a too heavy burden on the present generation.

Suggested Citation

  • Geir B. Asheim & Wolfgang Buchholz, 2000. "The Malleability of Undiscounted Utilitarianism as a Criterion of Intergenerational Justice," CESifo Working Paper Series 392, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_392
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Wolfgang Buchholz & Cornelia Ohl & Aneta Ufert, 2012. "Ökonomische Blickwinkel auf Gerechtigkeitsfragen am Beispiel des globalen Klimaschutzes," Discussion Paper Series RECAP15 001, RECAP15, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder).
    2. Buchholz, Wolfgang & Schumacher, Jan, 2010. "Discounting and welfare analysis over time: Choosing the [eta]," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 372-385, September.
    3. Cameron Hepburn & Greer Gosnell, 2014. "Evaluating impacts in the distant future: cost–benefit analysis, discounting and the alternatives," Chapters,in: Handbook of Sustainable Development, chapter 9, pages 140-159 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Zuber, Stéphane & Asheim, Geir B., 2012. "Justifying social discounting: The rank-discounted utilitarian approach," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 147(4), pages 1572-1601.
    5. Mabrouk, Mohamed, 2006. "Allais-anonymity as an alternative to the discounted-sum criterion in the calculus of optimal growth I: Consensual optimality," MPRA Paper 10512, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Utilitarianism; intergenerational justice;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • Q32 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Exhaustible Resources and Economic Development

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