There is a considerable body of evidence showing that our preferences exhibit both reference dependence and loss aversion, a.k.a. the endowment effect. In this paper, we consider the implications of the endowment effect for discounting, with a special focus on discounting future improvements in the environment. We show that the endowment effect modifies the discount rate via (i) an instantaneous endowment effect and (ii) a reference-updating effect. Moreover we show that these two effects often combine to dampen the preference to smooth consumption over time. What this implies for discounting future environmental benefits may then depend critically on whether environmental quality is merely a factor of production of material consumption, or whether it is an amenity. On an increasing path of material consumption, dampened consumption smoothing implies a lower discount rate. But on a declining path of environmental quality and where we derive utility directly from environmental quality, it implies a higher discount rate. On non-monotonic paths, loss aversion specifically can give rise to substantial discontinuities in the discount rate.

Simon Dietz, Frank Venmans, The endowment effect, discounting and the environment, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2019, ISSN 0095-0696,

Keep in touch with the Grantham Research Institute at LSE
Sign up to our newsletters and get the latest analysis, research, commentary and details of upcoming events.