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The Ethics of Distribution in a Warming Planet

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Abstract

The discounted-utilitarian social welfare function (DU) is used by the great majority of researchers studying intergenerational resource allocation in the presence of climate change (e.g., W. Nordhaus, M. Weitzman, N. Stern, and P. Dasgupta). I present three justifications for using DU: (1) the view that the first generation's preferences should be hegemonic, (2) the viewpoint of a utilitarian Ethical Observer who maximizes expected utility when the existence of future generations is uncertain, and (3) axiomatic justifications (as in classical social-choice theory). I argue that only justification (2) provides an ethically convincing justification, and that, only if one endorses utilitarianism as a good ethic. Recent work by Llavador, Roemer and Silvestre challenges the utilitarian assumption, and argues that sustaining human welfare at the highest possible level forever, or sustaining the growth rate of human welfare (at a fixed exogenous growth rate), are more attractive ethical choices. The work of these authors, which studies the optimal intergenerational paths of resource allocatiobn under the sustainabilitarian objectives, is briefly reviewed and contrasted with the discounted-utilitarian approach.

Suggested Citation

  • John E. Roemer, 2009. "The Ethics of Distribution in a Warming Planet," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1693, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1693
    Note: CFP 1321.
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    Cited by:

    1. Keuschnigg, Christian, 2011. "Intra- und intergenerative Gerechtigkeit in der Finanzpolitik," Economics Working Paper Series 1137, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Climate change; Intergenerational justice; Sustainability; Utilitarianism;

    JEL classification:

    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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