Social discount rates for the European Union
In relation to social project appraisal in EU countries, governments should try to agree on a single generally preferred method of discounting. Consistency of approach should result in the application of similar discount rates by countries. Before 2003, the use of different methods resulted in the application of widely divergent rates; for example, 8% in France, 3% in Germany and 6% in Britain. New appraisal guidance by the British Treasury in 2003 saw the official UK rate, now based solely on social time preference, reduced to just 3. 5%. In 2005, France followed suit reducing its rate from 8% to 4%. This paper argues for a standard benchmark European discount rate of around 3%-4% based on social time preference (STPR). This rate is somewhat lower than the 5% rate suggested in the 2002 EC guide to cost-benefit analysis and, as such, its application should result in a more generous allocation of budget funds to longer-term projects. For estimation purposes, the most troublesome component of the STPR formula is the elasticity of marginal utility of consumption (e). This paper reviews recent evidence on e and argues for the application of more thoughtful approaches in order to establish a reliable interval estimate for EU countries
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