Working Paper No. 575

Discounting and Future Selves

Published: February 21, 2002 Pages: 23Keywords: Altruism; Discounting; Dynamic Inconsistency; Welfare JEL-codes: D11; D64; D91; E21

Discounting and Future Selves María Sáez-Martí and Jörgen W. Weibull


Is discounting of future instantaneous utilities consistent with altruism towards future selves? More precisely, can temporal preferences, expressed as a sum of discounted instantaneous utilities, be derived from a representation in the form of a sum of discounted total utilities? We find that a representation in the quasi-exponential (ß,d)-form in Phelps and Pollak (1968) and Laibson (1997) correspond to quasi-exponential altruism towards one's future selves. For ß=1/2, these welfare weights are exponential, while for ß<1/2 they are biased in favor of the current self, and for ß>1/2 in favor of one's future selves. More generally, we establish a functional equation which relates welfare weights to instantaneous-utility weights and apply this equation to a number of examples. We also postulate five desiderata for instantaneous-utility discounting. None of the usual discount functions satisfy all desiderata, but we propose a simple class of discount functions which does.

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The authors of this book, Niklas Elert, Magnus Henrekson and Mikael Stenkula, advise the economies of the European Union to become more entrepreneurial in promoting innovation and economic growth. The authors propose a reform strategy with respect to several aspects to achieve this goal.

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