Journal Article
No. 2015-12 | April 15, 2015
Marc Fleurbaey and Stéphane Zuber
Discounting, beyond Utilitarianism


Discounted utilitarianism and the Ramsey equation prevail in the debate on the discount rate on consumption. The utility discount rate is assumed to be constant and to reflect either the uncertainty about the existence of future generations or a pure preference for the present. The authors question the unique status of discounted utilitarianism and discuss the implications of alternative criteria addressing the key issues of equity in risky situations and variable population. To do so, they introduce a class of intertemporal social objectives, named Expected Prioritarian Equally Distributed Equivalent (EPEDE) criteria. The class is more flexible than discounted utilitarianism in terms of population ethics and it disentangles risk aversion and inequality aversion. The authors show that these social objectives imply interesting modifications of the Ramsey formula, and shed new light on Weitzman’s “dismal theorem”.

JEL Classification:



Cite As

Marc Fleurbaey and Stéphane Zuber (2015). Discounting, beyond Utilitarianism. Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, 9 (2015-12): 1–52.

Comments and Questions

Simon Grant - Issue with Time (in)consistency for "beyond utilitarianism"
April 28, 2016 - 07:28 | Author's Homepage
See attached pdf