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Valuing the Future: Intergenerational Discounting, its Problems, and a Modest Proposal

27 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2011 Last revised: 22 Apr 2011

Stephen Gary Marks

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: March 11, 2011

Abstract

This article examine how intergenerational investment projects, such as, investments related to global warming, natural resources, energy, etc., should be undertaken. In particular, it examines two popular prescriptions: 1) In making intergenerational investments, policymakers should use a zero discount rate. 2) In making intergenerational investments, policymakers should use the market rate. The article shows that neither of these prescriptions are correct. Indeed, the article suggests that using present-value discounting at all is extremely problematic. Instead, the best we can probably do is to is to adopt a simple algorithm: set certain minimal goals for future generations: clean air, potable water, sufficient energy supplies, a nontoxic environment, etc., and then analyze the most cost-effective way of achieving those goals.

Keywords: intergenerational discounting, investment finance, global present value utilitarianism, social welfare

JEL Classification: D63, D90, Q38

Suggested Citation

Marks, Stephen Gary, Valuing the Future: Intergenerational Discounting, its Problems, and a Modest Proposal (March 11, 2011). Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 11-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1783729 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1783729

Stephen Gary Marks (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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