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Irreversibility, ignorance, and the intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off

Author

Listed:
  • Nikolai Hoberg

    () (Sustainability Economics Group, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany)

  • Stefan Baumgärtner

    () (Sustainability Economics Group, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany)

Abstract

Two important policy goals in intergenerational problems are Pareto-efficiency and sustainability, i.e. intergenerational equity. We demonstrate that the pursuit of these goals is subject to an intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off. Our analysis highlights two salient characteristics of sustainability problems and policy: (i) temporal irreversibility, i.e. the inability to revise one’s past actions; and (ii) unawareness of future consequences of present actions in human-environment systems (“unknown unknowns”). If initially unknown sustainability problems become apparent and policy is enacted after irreversible actions were taken, policy-making faces a fundamental trade-off between Pareto-efficiency and sustainability.

Suggested Citation

  • Nikolai Hoberg & Stefan Baumgärtner, 2011. "Irreversibility, ignorance, and the intergenerational equity-efficiency trade-off," Working Paper Series in Economics 198, University of Lüneburg, Institute of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lue:wpaper:198
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Richard B. Howarth, 1995. "Sustainability under Uncertainty: A Deontological Approach," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 71(4), pages 417-427.
    2. Howarth, Richard B & Norgaard, Richard B, 1992. "Environmental Valuation under Sustainable Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 473-477, May.
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    4. Frank Krysiak, 2009. "Sustainability and its relation to efficiency under uncertainty," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 41(2), pages 297-315, November.
    5. Gerlagh, Reyer & Keyzer, Michiel A., 2001. "Sustainability and the intergenerational distribution of natural resource entitlements," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 315-341, February.
    6. Hanemann, W. Michael, 1989. "Information and the concept of option value," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 16(1), pages 23-37, January.
    7. Henry, Claude, 1974. "Investment Decisions Under Uncertainty: The "Irreversibility Effect."," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(6), pages 1006-1012, December.
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    9. Jeffrey A. Krautkraemer & JRaymond G. Batina, 1999. "On Sustainability and Intergenerational Transfers with a Renewable Resource," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 75(2), pages 167-184.
    10. Stefan Baumgärtner, 2005. "Temporal and thermodynamic irreversibility in production theory," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 26(3), pages 725-728, October.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    climate change; closed ignorance; intergenerational equity-efficiency tradeoff; irreversibility; Pareto-efficiency; sustainability; unawareness;

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q38 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy (includes OPEC Policy)
    • 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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