In September 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency asked 12 economists how the benefits and costs of regulations should be discounted for projects that affect future generations. This paper summarizes the views of the panel on three topics: the use of the Ramsey formula as an organizing principle for determining discount rates over long horizons, whether the discount rate should decline over time, and how intra- and intergenerational discounting practices can be made compatible.The panel members agree that the Ramsey formula provides a useful framework for thinking about intergenerational discounting. We also agree that theory provides compelling arguments for a declining certainty-equivalent discount rate. In the Ramsey formula, uncertainty about the future rate of growth in per capita consumption can lead to a declining consumption rate of discount, assuming that shocks to consumption are positively correlated. This uncertainty in future consumption growth rates may be estimated econometrically based on historic observations, or it can be derived from subjective uncertainty about the mean rate of growth in mean consumption or its volatility. Determining the remaining parameters of the Ramsey formula is, however, challenging.
Maureen L. Cropper
Maureen Cropper is a a senior fellow at RFF, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, a member of the Board of Directors at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Richard G. Newell
Dr. Richard G. Newell is the President and CEO of Resources for the Future. From 2009 to 2011, he served as the administrator of the US Energy Information Administration, the agency responsible for official US government energy statistics and analysis.
William A. Pizer
Billy Pizer is Vice President for Research and Policy Engagement at RFF. Previously, he was the Susan B. King Professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Paul R. Portney
Paul R. Portney is a University Fellow and former president of RFF. His work focuses on the benefits and costs of federal regulatory programs, including techniques to value the damages to natural resources associated with oil spills and other accidents.
Thomas Sterner is a university fellow at RFF. His work is focused on the design of policy instruments to deal with resource and environmental problems.
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