The Shadow Price of Capital: Accounting for Capital Displacement in Benefit–Cost Analysis

This working paper illustrates how calculating discount rates with the shadow price of capital (SPC) approach can produce more accurate results in the context of decisions involving long-lived impacts, such as climate change.



April 6, 2023 (Updated May 18, 2023)


Working Paper

Reading time

1 minute


Government analysts have long used discount rates based on investment rates of return to approximate the effect of capital displacement. However, we show how this approach is deeply flawed and produces highly biased results, particularly in the context of decisions involving long-lived impacts such as climate change. We demonstrate how analysts can use the superior shadow price of capital (SPC) approach in a straightforward manner to account for concerns about capital displacement in federal regulatory analysis. We derive a formula for the SPC as a function of four key parameters and propose a central SPC value of 1.1, with a reasonable range of 1.1 to 1.2. We then illustrate how the SPC approach could be easily implemented in practice using the example of the 2015 Clean Power Plan Regulatory Impact Analysis, showing that estimated net benefits are far less sensitive to capital displacement concerns under the analytically correct SPC approach as compared to the incorrect approach of using a 7 percent investment rate or return. Our work is particularly important given the ongoing efforts to revise federal guidance for benefit-cost analysis and discounting.


Related Content