Keywords: discounting, future generations, moral agency, posterity, sustainability, sustainable development
In search of sustainable values
Fundamental to policies of sustainable development is the assumption that values will not depreciate through time. This assumption is inconsistent with the economic approach to policy-making. Economic analysis, by interpreting social values in terms of money, necessarily discounts values in the future. Accordingly, if the interests of future generations are to be served, moral and economic values must be shown to be essentially incommensurable, and moral values must predominate in policy analyses. The distinction between economic and moral values is enumerated with twelve contrasting characteristics, five of which are given careful elaboration: a) 'economic man' (a utility maximiser) vs. the moral agent (rule-oriented evaluator); b) the marketplace vs. the community; c) ecocentric vs. 'spectator' point of view; d) non-moral values vs. moral values; and e) time preference (discounting) vs. time neutrality.