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Intergenerational Justice as Opportunity

Page, Talbot (1982) Intergenerational Justice as Opportunity. Social Science Working Paper, 389. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA.

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This paper contrasts two views of intergenerational justice. The first view is a global one, which focuses on the aggregate well-being of each generation and discounts future generations' utilities. In this view discounting is not a notion of intergenerational justice; instead it is defended as a necessary condition of intergenerational efficiency. And intergenerational efficiency is not advanced as a notion of intergenerational justice but as a strongly desirable condition of any intergenerational just system. The appeal of the discounting approach is explained by a set of conditions which define neoclassical utilitarianism. Within the defining conditions, discounting future utilities is “natural," but not necessary for efficiency. The framework of intergenerational social choice also fits the defining conditions of neoclassical utilitarianism, and it is easy to construct choice rules which do not discount future utilities and yet which are intergenerationally efficient. Although there is room within neoclassical utilitarianism for efficient rules of choice which do not discount future utilities, the second view of intergenerational justice does not appear to fit naturally within the utilitarian system. The second view of intergenerational justice is specialized, and focuses on the preservation of "essential” opportunities. The second view becomes more appealing when the defining conditions of neoclassical utilitarianism are modified. In modifying the conditions, the notion of intergenerational efficiency becomes weaker, partly because as an ordering principle it becomes less complete and partly because potential Pareto improvements are no longer discretionary from the vantage point of the future. How much, if any, efficiency loss there might be from application of the specialized notion of intergenerational justice depends on the extent of modification of the defining conditions and the structure of institutions spanning generational time. The modified conditions appear to accord more closely with commonsense notions of intertemporal justice than do the original conditions. And thus the opportunity concept of intergenerational justice appears to be closer to our commonsense notions of intragenerational justice than does the global (discounting) concept.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:Revised. All the participants in the Working Group on Energy Policy and Our Obligations to Future Generations contributed my ideas, one way or another, and I would like to thank them all, and especially to thank Douglas MacLean, for his excellent and thoughtful editing. I would also like to thank Will Jones and Ed Green for helpful comments. Published as Page, Talbot. 1983. Intergenerational Justice as Opportunity. In: Energy and the Future, edited by Douglas MacLean and Peter G. Brown. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:389
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171005-132526634
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82122
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:06 Oct 2017 19:46
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:50

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