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Hyperbolic Discounting Is Rational: Valuing the Far Future with Uncertain Discount Rates

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Abstract

Conventional economics supposes that agents value the present vs. the future using an exponential discounting function. In contrast, experiments with animals and humans suggest that agents are better described as hyperbolic discounters, whose discount function decays much more slowly at large times, as a power law. This is generally regarded as being time inconsistent or irrational. We show that when agents cannot be sure of their own future one-period discount rates, then hyperbolic discounting can become rational and exponential discounting irrational. This has important implications for environmental economics, as it implies a much larger weight for the far future.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Doyne Farmer & John Geanakoplos, 2009. "Hyperbolic Discounting Is Rational: Valuing the Far Future with Uncertain Discount Rates," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1719, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1719
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    1. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    2. Newell, Richard G. & Pizer, William A., 2003. "Discounting the distant future: how much do uncertain rates increase valuations?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 52-71, July.
    3. Ho, Thomas S Y & Lee, Sang-bin, 1986. " Term Structure Movements and Pricing Interest Rate Contingent Claims," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 41(5), pages 1011-1029, December.
    4. Tjalling C. Koopmans, 1959. "Stationary Ordinal Utility and Impatience," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 81, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    5. Weitzman, Martin L., 1998. "Why the Far-Distant Future Should Be Discounted at Its Lowest Possible Rate," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 201-208, November.
    6. George Loewenstein & Drazen Prelec, 1992. "Anomalies in Intertemporal Choice: Evidence and an Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(2), pages 573-597.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Is hyperbolic discounting rational?
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2009-09-21 19:54:00
    2. The sickness of short-term-ism -- it's everywhere
      by Mark Buchanan in The Physics of Finance on 2011-07-06 17:36:00
    3. Deep Discounting Errors?
      by Mark Buchanan in The Physics of Finance on 2011-05-28 15:42:00

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. David F. Burgess & Richard O. Zerbe, 2013. "Appropriate discounting for benefit–cost analysis," Chapters,in: Principles and Standards for Benefit–Cost Analysis, chapter 7, pages 247-263 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Gaël Giraud & Céline Rochon, 2010. "Transition to Equilibrium in International Trades," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-00657038, HAL.
    3. Katz, Yuri A., 2017. "Value of the distant future: Model-independent results," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 466(C), pages 269-276.
    4. repec:kap:theord:v:83:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11238-017-9603-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Gaël Giraud & Céline Rochon, 2010. "Transition to Equilibrium in International Trades," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 10012, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne.
    6. Daniele Pennesi, 2015. "Uncertain discount and hyperbolic preferences," THEMA Working Papers 2015-02, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
    7. Eric Crampton & Matt Burgess & Brad Taylor, 2011. "The Cost of Cost Studies," Working Papers in Economics 11/29, University of Canterbury, Department of Economics and Finance.
    8. J. Doyne Farmer & John Geanakoplos & Jaume Masoliver & Miquel Montero & Josep Perello, 2014. "Discounting the Distant Future," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1951, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    9. Boyarchenko, Svetlana & Levendorskii, Sergei, 2010. "Discounting when income is stochastic and climate change policies," MPRA Paper 27998, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Hyperbolic discounting; Environment; Time consistent; Exponential discounting; Geometric random walk; Term structure of interest rates;

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates

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