Discounting the future, yet again

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 6 (3):259-284 (2007)
Abstract
discounting the future' is one on which philosophers and economists have divergent professional views. There is a lot of talking at cross-purposes across the disciplinary divide here; but there is a fair bit of confusion (I think) within disciplines as well. My aim here is essentially clarificatory. I draw several distinctions that I see as significant: • between inter-temporal and intergenerational questions • between price (discount rate) and quantity (inter-temporal and intergenerational allocations) as the ethically relevant magnitude, and • between price change and preference change as the primary instrument of change. I show that discounting does not violate the principle of inter-temporal and intergenerational neutrality, but I also cast some doubt on whether making adequate allowance for future generations has really been the problem that economists and philosophers seem to have taken it to be. Key Words: discount rates • intergenerational justice • future generations • `feasibility' analysis.
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