Discounting, Beyond Utilitarianism

34 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2014

See all articles by Marc Fleurbaey

Marc Fleurbaey

Princeton University - Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Stéphane Zuber

Paris School of Economics (PSE)

Date Written: January 31, 2014


Discounted utilitarianism and the Ramsey equation prevail in the debate on the discount rate on consumption. The utility discount rate is assumed to be constant and to reflect either the uncertainty about the existence of future generations or a pure preference for the present. We question the unique status of discounted utilitarianism and discuss the implications of alternative criteria addressing the key issues of equity in risky situations and variable population. To do so, we first characterize a class of intertemporal social objectives, named Expected Equally Distributed Equivalent (EEDE) criteria, which embody reasonable ethical principles. The class is more flexible in terms of population ethics and it disentangles risk aversion and inequality aversion. We show that these social objectives imply interesting modifications of the Ramsey formula, and shed new light on Weitzman's "dismal theorem".

Keywords: discounted utilitarianism, social discounting

JEL Classification: D63

Suggested Citation

Fleurbaey, Marc and Zuber, Stéphane, Discounting, Beyond Utilitarianism (January 31, 2014). Princeton University William S. Dietrich II Economic Theory Center Research Paper No. 060, Available at SSRN: or

Marc Fleurbaey (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Princeton School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Stéphane Zuber

Paris School of Economics (PSE) ( email )

48 Boulevard Jourdan
Paris, 75014 75014

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