April 13, 2007
What Do We Owe Future Generations?
Posted by Leandra Lederman

I’m currently at the Critical Tax Theory Conference, which is being held this year at UCLA. Steve Bank and Kirk Stark have done a terrific job organizing the conference, and we heard four papers this afternoon, all of which were really interesting. This post focuses on a project Neil Buchanan from GW is in the early stages of, which he plans to develop into a series of articles or a book. I borrowed his title for the title of this post: What do we owe future generations?

This question is of course much, much broader than tax. As Neil pointed out, all major policy issues can fit under the rubric of the question. Among the specific questions he raised is how we balance the interests of current and future generations. One question that comes out of that, which I believe Joseph Dodge raised, is whether there are positive duties to future generations, or just negative ones. At a minimum, it seems to me that we should be cautious in closing doors that future generations will have difficulty reopening. So I raised the question of whether we appropriately internalize the externalities our behavior imposes on future generations.

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Comments (3)

1. Posted by Michael Guttentag on April 13, 2007 @ 21:29 | Permalink

What do you think about the discount rate as a market mechanism to reconcile present and future generations? Conceivably the value of an asset to future generations should be reflected in its price, so that if an asset is worth much more in the future and its storage costs are minimal the asset would be saved for the future. Of course, real discount rates are sufficiently high that a generation even fifty years in the future would be unlikely to afford assets at anything near today’s prices.

2. Posted by Jay Taber on April 15, 2007 @ 12:49 | Permalink

If we think of 'future generations' as our children and theirs, then the answer is, "everything." With that perspective in mind, even considering putting a monetary price on our forbearance becomes obscene.

3. Posted by Jake on April 16, 2007 @ 22:23 | Permalink

An interesting post. Let me submit that, at least so far (and, admittedly, focusing on American culture), every current generation over the last 200 years has bequeathed a vastly better existence on the generation that follows.

Pessimism seems embedded in the notion that we should examine "whether we appropriately internalize the externalities our behavior imposes on future generations." I'm unconvinced such pessimism is warranted.

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