Rational Discounting for Regulatory Analysis

52 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2006 Last revised: 6 Aug 2022

See all articles by W. Kip Viscusi

W. Kip Viscusi

Vanderbilt University - Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Vanderbilt University - Department of Economics; Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management; Vanderbilt University - Strategy and Business Economics

Date Written: June 2006

Abstract

This article examines the economic basis for what is termed %u201Crational discounting,%u201D which entails full recognition of policy effects over time and exponential discounting at a riskless rate of return. Policies often cannot be ranked unambiguously in terms of their present or future orientation. Both failure to discount and preferential intergenerational discounting generate inconsistencies and economic anomalies. Office of Management and Budget discounting guidelines now stipulate more reasonable discount rates than earlier guidelines, but err in permitting open-ended preferential rates for intergenerational effects. The article presents a methodology for monetizing the value of statistical life for people of different ages and at different points in time. Review of regulatory analyses indicates increased consistency of discounting practices. However, examination of two policies with intergenerational effects, stratospheric ozone regulation and nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, reveal failures to adopt a rational discounting approach. The influence of behavioral anomalies such as hyperbolic discounting may make full recognition of intertemporal effects in benefit-cost analysis more consequential than the use of preferential discount rates.

Suggested Citation

Viscusi, W. Kip, Rational Discounting for Regulatory Analysis (June 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12294, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=908533

W. Kip Viscusi (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-343-7715 (Phone)
615-322-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Vanderbilt University - Department of Economics

Box 1819 Station B
Nashville, TN 37235
United States
(615) 343-7715 (Phone)
(615) 343-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management

401 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States
(615) 343-7715 (Phone)
(615) 343-5953 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/viscusi.htm

Vanderbilt University - Strategy and Business Economics ( email )

Nashville, TN 37203
United States

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