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Hyperbolic Discounting and Resource Collapse


  • Cameron Hepburn


This paper shows that the use of hyperbolic discounting in environmental regulation can have unfortunate consequences. In a three-period model we demonstrate that a planner who `naively` employs hyperbolic discounting and fails to anticipate problems of dynamic inconsistency, can oversee a collapse of a renewable resource. If the regeneration rate of the resource is within a given range, and stock levels are close to the `minimum viable population`, then an unforeseen collapse will result. This basic result is shown to hold in an infinite-horizon, continuous-time model with hyperbolic discounting of the sort examined in Barro (1999) and Li and Lofgren (2001). Here, the naive planner does not anticipate extinction of its resource stock because it always plans to lower consumption (but it never does). Two conclusions follow from these results. First, the model provides an explanation for resource collapses such as that of the Peruvian anchovy and Atlantic cod. Second, governments should think carefully before they employ hyperbolic discounting in policymaking.

Suggested Citation

  • Cameron Hepburn, 2003. "Hyperbolic Discounting and Resource Collapse," Economics Series Working Papers 159, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:159

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Winkler, Ralph, 2009. "Now or Never: Environmental Protection under Hyperbolic Discounting," Economics - The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), vol. 3, pages 1-22.
    2. Ondřej Vojáček, 2011. "K pojetí preferencí v ekonomickém myšlení
      [Preference Dilemma in Economics]
      ," Politická ekonomie, University of Economics, Prague, vol. 2011(3), pages 345-358.
    3. Ben Groom & Cameron Hepburn & Phoebe Koundouri & David Pearce, 2005. "Declining Discount Rates: The Long and the Short of it," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 32(4), pages 445-493, December.
    4. Ben Groom & Cameron Hepburn & Phoebe Koundouri & David Pearce, "undated". "Implications of declining discount rates: Climate Change Policy in the UK," DEOS Working Papers 0702, Athens University of Economics and Business.
    5. Winkler, Ralph, 2006. "Does 'better' discounting lead to 'worse' outcomes in long-run decisions? The dilemma of hyperbolic discounting," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(4), pages 573-582, June.

    More about this item


    hyperbolic discounting; time-inconsistency; renewable resources;

    JEL classification:

    • Q21 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Demand and Supply; Prices
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy
    • E61 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Policy Objectives; Policy Designs and Consistency; Policy Coordination


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