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How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context?

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  • Richard S. J. Tol

    () (Department of Economics, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom
    Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Department of Spatial Economics, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands)

  • Kenneth J. Arrow
  • Maureen L. Cropper
  • Christian Gollier
  • Ben Groom
  • Geoffrey M. Heal
  • Richard G. Newell
  • William D. Nordhaus
  • Robert S. Pindyck
  • William A. Pizer
  • Paul R. Portney
  • Thomas Sterner
  • Martin L. Weitzman

Abstract

In September 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency asked 12 economists how the benefits and costs of regulations should be discounted for projects that affect future generations. This paper summarizes the views of the panel on three topics: the use of the Ramsey formula as an organizing principle for determining discount rates over long horizons, whether the discount rate should decline over time, and how intra- and intergenerational discounting practices can be made compatible. The panel members agree that the Ramsey formula provides a useful framework for thinking about intergenerational discounting. We also agree that theory provides compelling arguments for a declining certainty-equivalent discount rate. In the Ramsey formula, uncertainty about the future rate of growth in per capita consumption can lead to a declining consumption rate of discount, assuming that shocks to consumption are positively correlated. This uncertainty in future consumption growth rates may be estimated econometrically based on historic observations, or it can be derived from subjective uncertainty about the mean rate of growth in mean consumption or its volatility. Determining the remaining parameters of the Ramsey formula is, however, challenging.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard S. J. Tol & Kenneth J. Arrow & Maureen L. Cropper & Christian Gollier & Ben Groom & Geoffrey M. Heal & Richard G. Newell & William D. Nordhaus & Robert S. Pindyck & William A. Pizer & Paul R. , 2013. "How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context?," Working Paper Series 5613, Department of Economics, University of Sussex.
  • Handle: RePEc:sus:susewp:5613
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    File URL: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/economics/documents/wps-56-2013.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Christian Gollier & Phoebe Koundouri & Theologos Pantelidis, 2008. "Declining discount rates: Economic justifications and implications for long-run policy," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 23, pages 757-795, October.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Discounting for future generations: the consensus?
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2013-02-20 21:45:00
    2. How Should Benefits and Costs Be Discounted in an Intergenerational Context?
      by David Stern in Stochastic Trend on 2013-02-05 10:44:00

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Rautiainen, Aapo & Lintunen, Jussi, 2017. "Social Cost of Forcing: A Basis for Pricing All Forcing Agents," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 42-51.
    2. Lugovoy, O. & Polbin, A., 2016. "On Intergenerational Distribution of the Burden of Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Journal of the New Economic Association, New Economic Association, vol. 31(3), pages 12-39.
    3. repec:eee:forpol:v:83:y:2017:i:c:p:58-69 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:eee:pubeco:v:160:y:2018:i:c:p:33-49 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Eli P. Fenichel & Matthew J. Kotchen & Ethan T. Addicott, 2017. "Even the Representative Agent Must Die: Using Demographics to Inform Long-Term Social Discount Rates," NBER Working Papers 23591, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Mauri Kotamäki, 2013. "The Pension Scheme Need Not Be Pay-As-You-Go: An Overlapping Generations Approach," Finnish Economic Papers, Finnish Economic Association, vol. 26(2), pages 56-71, Autumn.
    7. Maureen L. Cropper & Mark C. Freeman & Ben Groom & William A. Pizer, 2014. "Declining Discount Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(5), pages 538-543, May.
    8. Cameron Hepburn & Greer Gosnell, 2014. "Evaluating impacts in the distant future: cost–benefit analysis, discounting and the alternatives," Chapters,in: Handbook of Sustainable Development, chapter 9, pages 140-159 Edward Elgar Publishing.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    discount rate; uncertainty; declining discount rate; benefit-cost analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis

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