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Should We Discount the Far-Distant Future at Its Lowest Possible Rate?

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  • Gollier, Christian

Abstract

In this paper, we elaborate on an idea initially developed by Weitzman (1998) that justifies taking the lowest possible discount rate for far-distant future cash flows. His argument relies on the arbitrary assumption that when the future rate of return of capital (RRC) is uncertain, one should invest in any project with a positive expected net present value. We examine an economy with a risk-averse representative agent facing an uncertain evolution of the RRC. In this context, we characterize the socially efficient stochastic consumption path, which allows us in turn to use the Ramsey rule to characterize the term structure of socially efficient discount rates. We show that Weitzman's claim is qualitatively correct if shocks on the RRC are persistent. On the contrary, in the absence of any serial correlation in the RRC, the term structure of discount rates should be flat.

Suggested Citation

  • Gollier, Christian, 2009. "Should We Discount the Far-Distant Future at Its Lowest Possible Rate?," Economics Discussion Papers 2009-7, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:ifwedp:7486
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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.
    2. Hepburn, Cameron & Groom, Ben, 2007. "Gamma discounting and expected net future value," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 99-109, January.
    3. Hepburn, Cameron & Koundouri, Phoebe & Panopoulou, Ekaterini & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2009. "Social discounting under uncertainty: A cross-country comparison," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 140-150, March.
    4. Martin L. Weitzman, 2001. "Gamma Discounting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 260-271, March.
    5. Gollier, Christian, 2004. "The Consumption-Based Determinants of the Term Structure of Discount Rates," IDEI Working Papers 296, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
    6. Gollier, Christian, 2004. "Maximizing the expected net future value as an alternative strategy to gamma discounting," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 85-89, June.
    7. Gollier, Christian, 2002. "Time Horizon and the Discount Rate," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 463-473, December.
    8. Gollier, Christian, 2010. "Expected net present value, expected net future value, and the Ramsey rule," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 142-148, March.
    9. 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.
    10. Wolfgang Buchholz & Jan Schumacher, 2008. "Discounting the Long-Distant Future: A Simple Explanation for the Weitzman-Gollier-Puzzle," CESifo Working Paper Series 2357, CESifo Group Munich.
    11. Elisha A. Pazner & Assaf Razin, 1976. "On Expected Present Value Vs. Expected Future Value: Further Remarks," Discussion Papers 196, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
    12. Phoebe Koundouri & Theologos Pantelidis & Ben Groom & Ekaterini Panopoulou, 2007. "Discounting the distant future: How much does model selection affect the certainty equivalent rate?," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(3), pages 641-656.
    13. 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.
    14. Pazner, Elisha A & Razin, Assaf, 1974. "A Model of Investment under Interest Rate Uncertainty," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 15(3), pages 798-802, October.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gollier, Christian, 2010. "Expected net present value, expected net future value, and the Ramsey rule," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 59(2), pages 142-148, March.
    2. Nicole El Karoui & Caroline Hillairet & Mohamed Mrad, 2014. "Ramsey Rule with Progressive Utility in Long Term Yield Curves Modeling," Working Papers hal-00974815, HAL.
    3. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben, 2016. "How certain are we about the certainty-equivalent long term social discount rate?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 152-168.
    4. Iverson, Terrence, 2013. "Minimax regret discounting," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 598-608.
    5. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben & Panopoulou, Ekaterini & Pantelidis, Theologos, 2015. "Declining discount rates and the Fisher Effect: Inflated past, discounted future?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 73(C), pages 32-49.
    6. Weitzman, Martin L., 2010. "Risk-adjusted gamma discounting," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 1-13, July.
    7. Gollier, Christian & Weitzman, Martin L., 2010. "How should the distant future be discounted when discount rates are uncertain?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 107(3), pages 350-353, June.
    8. Freeman, Mark C., 2009. "Yes, we should discount the far-distant future at its lowest possible rate: a resolution of the Weitzman-Gollier puzzle," Economics Discussion Papers 2009-42, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    9. Nicole El Karoui & Caroline Hillairet & Mohamed Mrad, 2014. "Ramsey Rule with Progressive Utility in Long Term Yield Curves Modeling," Papers 1404.1895, arXiv.org.
    10. Traeger, Christian P., 2013. "Discounting under uncertainty: Disentangling the Weitzman and the Gollier effect," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 573-582.
    11. Freeman, Mark C. & Groom, Ben, 2016. "How certain are we about the certainty-equivalent longterm social discount rate?," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 67258, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    12. Fridstrøm, Lasse & Østli, Vegard, 2017. "The vehicle purchase tax as a climate policy instrument," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 168-189.
    13. Mark C. Freeman & Ben Groom, 2015. "Positively Gamma Discounting: Combining the Opinions of Experts on the Social Discount Rate," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 125(585), pages 1015-1024, June.
    14. Nicole El Karoui & Mohamed Mrad & Caroline Hillairet, 2014. "Ramsey Rule with Progressive utility and Long Term Affine Yields Curves," Papers 1404.1913, arXiv.org.
    15. Nicole El Karoui & Mohamed Mrad & Caroline Hillairet, 2014. "Ramsey Rule with Progressive utility and Long Term Affine Yields Curves," Working Papers hal-00974831, HAL.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Discount rate; term structure; certainty equivalent rate; Ramsey rule; sustainable development;

    JEL classification:

    • E43 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Interest Rates: Determination, Term Structure, and Effects
    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates

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