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Should We Discount the Welfare of Future Generations? Ramsey and Suppes versus Koopmans and Arrow

Author

Listed:
  • Chichilnisky, Graciela

    (Columbia University)

  • Hammond, Peter J.

    (Dept. of Economics and CAGE, University of Warwick)

  • Stern, Nicholas

    (LSE)

Abstract

Ramsey famously pronounced that discounting "future enjoyments" would be ethically indefensible. Suppes enunciated an equity criterion implying that all individuals' welfare should be treated equally. By contrast, Arrow (1999a, b) accepted, perhaps rather reluctantly, the logical force of Koopmans' argument that no satisfactory preference ordering on a sufficiently unrestricted domain of infinite utility streams satisfies equal treatment. In this paper, we first derive an equitable utilitarian objective based on a version of the Vickrey-Harsanyi original position, extended to allow a variable and uncertain population with no finite bound. Following the work of Chichilnisky and others on sustainability, slightly weakening the conditions of Koopmans and co-authors allows intergenerational equity to be satis ed. In fact, assuming that the expected total number of individuals who ever live is nite, and that each individual's utility is bounded both above and below, there is a coherent equitable objective based on expected total utility. Moreover, it implies the \extinction discounting rule" advocated by, inter alia, the Stern Review on climate change.

Suggested Citation

  • Chichilnisky, Graciela & Hammond, Peter J. & Stern, Nicholas, 2018. "Should We Discount the Welfare of Future Generations? Ramsey and Suppes versus Koopmans and Arrow," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 386, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  • Handle: RePEc:cge:wacage:386
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    File URL: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/centres/cage/manage/publications/386-2018_hammond.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Geir B. Asheim, 2010. "Intergenerational Equity," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 197-222, September.
    2. Blackorby,Charles & Bossert,Walter & Donaldson,David J., 2005. "Population Issues in Social Choice Theory, Welfare Economics, and Ethics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521532587.
    3. Kaushik Basu & Tapan Mitra, 2003. "Aggregating Infinite Utility Streams with InterGenerational Equity: The Impossibility of Being Paretian," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(5), pages 1557-1563, September.
    4. Kenneth Arrow & Partha Dasgupta & Lawrence Goulder & Gretchen Daily & Paul Ehrlich & Geoffrey Heal & Simon Levin & Karl-Göran Mäler & Stephen Schneider & David Starrett & Brian Walker, 2004. "Are We Consuming Too Much?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(3), pages 147-172, Summer.
    5. Geir Asheim & Stéphane Zuber, 2013. "A complete and strongly anonymous leximin relation on infinite streams," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 41(4), pages 819-834, October.
    6. Kenneth J. Arrow & Maureen L. Cropper & Christian Gollier & Ben Groom & Geoffrey M. Heal & Richard G. Newell & William D. Nordhaus & Robert S. Pindyck & William A. Pizer & Paul R. Portney & Thomas Ste, 2014. "Editor's Choice Should Governments Use a Declining Discount Rate in Project Analysis?," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 8(2), pages 145-163.
    7. repec:hrv:faseco:33373349 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Graciela Chichilnisky, 1996. "An axiomatic approach to sustainable development," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 13(2), pages 231-257, April.
    9. Geir Asheim & Tapan Mitra & Bertil Tungodden, 2012. "Sustainable recursive social welfare functions," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 49(2), pages 267-292, February.
    10. Dubey, Ram Sewak & Mitra, Tapan, 2010. "On the Nature of Suppes-Sen Choice Functions in an Aggregative Growth Model," Working Papers 10-06, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
    11. Arrow Kenneth J, 2007. "Global Climate Change: A Challenge to Policy," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 4(3), pages 1-5, June.
    12. Brock, William A, 1970. "An Axiomatic Basis for the Ramsey- Weizsacker Overtaking Criterion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 38(6), pages 927-929, November.
    13. Bossert, Walter & Sprumont, Yves & Suzumura, Kotaro, 2007. "Ordering infinite utility streams," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 135(1), pages 579-589, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Graciela Chichilnisky & Peter J. Hammond & Nicholas Stern, 2020. "Fundamental utilitarianism and intergenerational equity with extinction discounting," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 54(2), pages 397-427, March.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Discount rate ; utilitarianism ; consequentialization ; Vickrey-Harsanyi original position ; Suppes criterion ; optimal population ; average versus total utility ; intergenerational equity ; long-run discounting ; sustainable preferences ; extinction discounting rule JEL Classification: D63 ; D70 ; D90 ; Q54 ; Q56;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth

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