Discounting by committee


Abstract

We study a dynamic social choice problem in which a sequence of committees must decide how to consume a public asset. A committee convened at time t decides on consumption at t, accounting for the behaviour of future committees. Committee members disagree about the appropriate value of the pure rate of time preference, but must nevertheless reach a decision. If each committee aggregates its members’ preferences in a utilitarian manner, the collective preferences of successive committees will be time inconsistent, and they will implement inefficient consumption plans. If however committees decide on the level of consumption by a majoritarian vote in each period, they may improve on the consumption plans implemented by utilitarian committees. Using a simple model, we show that this occurs in empirically plausible cases. Application to the problem of choosing the social discount rate is discussed.

Millner, Antony and Healey, Andrew (2018). In: Journal of Public Economics, 167. pp. 91-104. ISSN 0047-2727