Discounting the distant future: How much do uncertain rates increase valuations?
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We demonstrate that when the future path of the discount rate is uncertain and highly correlated, the distant future should be discounted at significantly lower rates than suggested by the current rate. We then use two centuries of US interest rate data to quantify this effect. Using both random walk and mean-reverting models, we compute the "certainty-equivalent rate" that summarizes the effect of uncertainty and measures the appropriate forward rate of discount in the future. Under the random walk model we find that the certainty-equivalent rate falls continuously from 4% to 2% after 100 years, 1% after 200 years, and 0.5% after 300 years. At horizons of 400 years, the discounted value increases by a factor of over 40,000 relative to conventional discounting. Applied to climate change mitigation, we find that incorporating discount rate uncertainty almost doubles the expected present value of mitigation benefits. © 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
Published Version (Please cite this version)10.1016/S0095-0696(02)00031-1
Publication InfoNewell, Richard G; & Pizer, William Aaron (2003). Discounting the distant future: How much do uncertain rates increase valuations?. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 46(1). pp. 52-71. 10.1016/S0095-0696(02)00031-1. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9133.
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Dr. Richard G. Newell is the President and CEO of Resources for the Future (RFF), an independent, nonprofit research institution that improves environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. From 2009 to 2011, he served as the administrator of the US Energy Information Administration, the agency responsible for official US government energy statistics and analysis. Dr. Newell is an adjunct professor at Duke University, where he
Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy
Billy Pizer joined the faculty of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University in the fall of 2011. He also was appointed a faculty fellow in the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, a nonpartisan institute at Duke that focuses on finding solutions to some of the nation's most pressing environmental challenges. His current research examines how we value the future benefits of climate change mitigation, how environmental regulation and climate policy can af
Alphabetical list of authors with Scholars@Duke profiles.