Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Research Institute of Industrial Economics

No 575: Discounting and Future Selves

María Sáez-Martí () and Jörgen W. Weibull ()
Additional contact information
María Sáez-Martí: The Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Postal: P.O. Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden
Jörgen W. Weibull: The Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Postal: P.O. Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: 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 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.

Keywords: Altruism; Discounting; Dynamic Inconsistency; Welfare

JEL-codes: D11; D64; D91; E21

23 pages, February 21, 2002

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