Economists and moral philosophers tend to be of different minds on the value of the future and, therefore, obligations to future generations. Economists typically invoke a discount rate that gives preference to receiving a benefit sooner rather than in the future. (Think of the maxim: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.") While this might make sense in the short term, moral philosophers and others see a problem when this logic is extended by decades or even centuries: the value of future generations is mathematically reduced to nearly zero the further out the discount rate is calculated, yet is the harm done to a child in the future any different, from an ethical standpoint, than the harm done to a child now?
Some philosophers are arguing for placing more importance on the consideration of future generations. On the one hand, "The philosophical argument for investing in measures to protect the wellbeing of future generations can ... be framed, simplistically, by imagining a set of scales, with everybody alive today on one side, and every unborn person on the other. Today’s population of 7.7 billion is a lot – but it is small when you weigh it against everybody on Earth who will ever call themselves human, along with all their achievements. ... Trillions of families, relationships, births; countless moments of potential joy, love, friendship and tenderness." From a utilitarian standpoint, then, the future may well outweigh the present in terms of moral obligation.
For those who prefer a more Kantian argument, philosopher Roman Krznaric argues that by failing to consider our obligation to future people, "We treat the future as a distant colonial outpost where we dump ecological degradation, nuclear waste, public debt and technological risk." In effect, “we treat the future as ‘empty time’, where there are no generations,” no equality of rights.
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