Discounting and Relative Consumption


Johansson-Stenman, O., and Sterner, T


We analyze optimal social discount rates when people derive utility from relative consumption, i.e. their own consumption level relative to the consumption level of others. We compare the social, private, and conventional Ramsey rates.

Assuming a positive growth rate, we find that (1) the social discount rate exceeds the private discount rate if the importance of relative consumption increases with consumption, and that (2) the social discount rate is lower than the Ramsey rate given quasi-concavity in own and others’ consumption and risk aversion with respect to others’ consumption.

Numerical calculations demonstrate that the latter difference may be substantial and have important implications for long run environmental issues such as global warming.


May 2015

Published in Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. 71 (May 2015): 19-33 DOI:10.1016/j.jeem.2015.01.006

Read the reportPDF (pdf, 212 kB)

Updated: 2015-10-19

The website is administrated by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Insitute Ltd | © IVL