Intergenerational Decision Making: An Evolutionary Perspective

42 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2005


The dominant technique for balancing the interests of present and future generations is currently to discount to present value - in effect, to give the interests of the present maximum weight and the interests of future less and less weight the further into the future one looks. Faced with a choice between 1,000 years of pleasure followed by extinction, on the one hand, and indefinite survival with a more moderate life-style, on the other, discounting to present value will often choose extinction.

This paper offers an alternative paradigm. From an evolutionary perspective, the present matters only because it makes the future possible. Discounting to present value may be appropriate with respect to factors subject to compound growth - information, for example. It is not appropriate, however, with respect to nonrenewable factors. Both cost/benefit analysis with discounting to present value and unconstrained reliance on free markets are therefore inappropriate with respect to such factors.

The paper also explores the problem of normative allegiance in the face of evolving cultures and species. Our goal, it concludes, should be the survival, evolution, and integrative expansion of our We - that is, the set of entities to whom we owe reciprocal cooperative duties.

Suggested Citation

Seto, Theodore P., Intergenerational Decision Making: An Evolutionary Perspective. Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2005-2, Available at SSRN:

Theodore P. Seto (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-1154 (Phone)
213-380-3769 (Fax)

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