Social Discounting and Individual Long-Run Discounting

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The most critical issue in evaluating policies and projects that affect generations of individuals is the choice of social discount rate. This paper shows that there exist social discount rates such that the planner can simultaneously be (i) time-consistent; (ii) intergenerationally Pareto—i.e., if all individuals from all generations prefer one policy/project to another, the planner agrees; and (iii) strongly non-dictatorial—i.e., no individual from any generation is ignored. Moreover, to satisfy (i)–(iii), if the time horizon is long enough, it is generically sufficient and necessary for social discounting to be more patient than the most patient individual long-run discounting, in which an individual’s long-run discount rate is his asymptotic average and relative discount rate.

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