Time preference

Time preference

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In economics, time preference (or "discounting") pertains to how large a premium a consumer places on enjoyment nearer in time over more remote enjoyment.

There is no absolute distinction that separates "high" and "low" time preference, only comparisons with others either individually or in aggregate. Someone with a high time preference is focused substantially on his well-being in the present and the immediate future relative to the average person, while someone with low time preference places more emphasis than average on their well-being in the further future.

Time preferences are captured mathematically in the discount function
Discount function
A discount function is used in economic models to describe the weights placed on rewards received at different points in time. For example, if time is discrete and utility is time-separable, with the discount function...

. The higher the time preference, the higher the discount placed on returns receivable or costs payable in the future.

The time preference that an individual exhibits at any given moment is determined solely by their personal preferences. As such, if one "prefers" to save his money but cannot do so in the present, he is still considered to have a low time-preference. One of the factors that may determine an individual's time preference is how long that individual has lived. An older individual may have a lower time preference (relative to what he had earlier in life) due to a higher income and to the fact that he has had more time to acquire durable commodities (such as a college education or a house).

The time preference theory of interest is an attempt to explain interest
Interest
Interest is a fee paid by a borrower of assets to the owner as a form of compensation for the use of the assets. It is most commonly the price paid for the use of borrowed money, or money earned by deposited funds....

 through the demand for accelerated satisfaction. This is particularly important in microeconomics
Microeconomics
Microeconomics is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of how the individual modern household and firms make decisions to allocate limited resources. Typically, it applies to markets where goods or services are being bought and sold...

.

In the neoclassical
Neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics is a term variously used for approaches to economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand, often mediated through a hypothesized maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits...

 theory of interest due to Irving Fisher
Irving Fisher
Irving Fisher was an American economist, inventor, and health campaigner, and one of the earliest American neoclassical economists, though his later work on debt deflation often regarded as belonging instead to the Post-Keynesian school.Fisher made important contributions to utility theory and...

, the interest rate determines the relative price of present and future consumption. Time preference, in conjunction with relative levels of present and future consumption, determines the marginal rate of substitution
Marginal rate of substitution
In economics, the marginal rate of substitution is the rate at which a consumer is ready to give up one good in exchange for another good while maintaining the same level of utility.-Marginal rate of substitution as the slope of indifference curve:...

 between present and future consumption. These two rates must necessarily be equal, and this equilibrium is brought about by the relative prices of present and future consumption.

Neoclassical view


In Neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics
Neoclassical economics is a term variously used for approaches to economics focusing on the determination of prices, outputs, and income distributions in markets through supply and demand, often mediated through a hypothesized maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits...

 the rate of time preference is usually taken as a parameter in an individual's utility function which captures the trade off between consumption today and consumption in the future, and is thus exogenous and subjective. It is also the underlying determinant of the real rate of interest. The rate of return on investment is generally seen as return on capital, with the real rate of interest equal to the marginal product of capital at any point in time. Arbitrage, in turn, implies that the return on capital is equalized with the interest rate on financial assets (adjusting for factors such as inflation and risk). Consumers, who are facing a choice between consumption and saving, respond to the difference between the market interest rate and their own subjective rate of time preference ("impatience") and increase or decrease their current consumption according to this difference. This changes the amount of funds available for investment and capital accumulation, as in for example the Ramsey growth model
Ramsey growth model
The Ramsey–Cass–Koopmans model or the Ramsey growth model is a neo-classical model of economic growth based primarily on the work of the economist and mathematician Frank P. Ramsey, with significant extensions by David Cass and Tjalling Koopmans...

. In the long run steady state, consumption's share in a person's income is constant, which pins down the rate of interest as equal to the rate of time preference, with the marginal product of capital adjusting to ensure this equality holds. It is important to note that in this view, it is not that people discount the future because they can receive positive interest rates on their savings. Rather, the causality goes in the opposite direction; interest rates must be positive in order to induce impatient individuals to forgo current consumptions in favor of future.

Austrian School views


The Austrian School
Austrian School
The Austrian School of economics is a heterodox school of economic thought. It advocates methodological individualism in interpreting economic developments , the theory that money is non-neutral, the theory that the capital structure of economies consists of heterogeneous goods that have...

 sees time as the root of uncertainty within economics.

In his book Capital and Interest
Capital and Interest
Capital and Interest is a three-volume work on finance published by Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk.The first two volumes were published in the 1880s when he was teaching at the University of Innsbruck....

, the Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
Eugen Ritter von Böhm-Bawerk was an Austrian economist who made important contributions to the development of the Austrian School of economics.-Biography:...

 built upon the time-preference ideas of Carl Menger
Carl Menger
Carl Menger was the founder of the Austrian School of economics, famous for contributing to the development of the theory of marginal utility, which contested the cost-of-production theories of value, developed by the classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo.- Biography :Menger...

, insisting that there is always a difference in value between present goods and future goods of equal quality, quantity, and form. Furthermore, the value of future goods diminishes as the length of time necessary for their completion increases.

Böhm-Bawerk cited three reasons for this difference in value. First of all, in a growing economy, the supply of goods will always be larger in the future than it is in the present. Secondly, people have a tendency to underestimate their future needs due to carelessness and shortsightedness. Finally entrepreneurs would rather initiate production with goods presently available, instead of waiting for future goods and delaying production.

By contrast, George Reisman
George Reisman
George Gerald Reisman is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pepperdine University and author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics . He is also the author of an earlier book, The Government Against the Economy , which was praised by F.A...

 says that time preference arises because of the possibility of being less able (say through injury or the effects of aging) or totally unable (through substantial incapacitation or death) to enjoy the use of goods in the future. The further into the future someone considers, the less likely it is that this someone will be able to enjoy the goods as much as they can be enjoyed now. The root of time-preference in Reisman's view is an internal risk premium that is specific to the owner of the goods, in contrast to an external risk premium
Risk premium
A risk premium is the minimum amount of money by which the expected return on a risky asset must exceed the known return on a risk-free asset, in order to induce an individual to hold the risky asset rather than the risk-free asset...

 that is demanded when the owner invests them in a production process or lends them to another. He then points out that the scarcity of capital combined with the uncertainties he raises, means that time preference is unavoidable and hence a minimum rate of return on that capital (such as in interest
Interest
Interest is a fee paid by a borrower of assets to the owner as a form of compensation for the use of the assets. It is most commonly the price paid for the use of borrowed money, or money earned by deposited funds....

 and normal profit) is always going to be required by suppliers of capital.

In Human Action (chapter 18), Mises discusses time inconsistency: that sooner-occurring future intervals are valued more highly than later-occurring future intervals. This observation has been observed in behavioral economics.

See also

  • Time value of money
    Time value of money
    The time value of money is the value of money figuring in a given amount of interest earned over a given amount of time. The time value of money is the central concept in finance theory....

  • Discounting
  • Discount function
    Discount function
    A discount function is used in economic models to describe the weights placed on rewards received at different points in time. For example, if time is discrete and utility is time-separable, with the discount function...

  • Intertemporal choice
    Intertemporal choice
    Intertemporal choice is the study of the relative value people assign to two or more payoffs at different points in time. Most choices require decision-makers to trade-off costs and benefits at different points in time. These decisions maybe about savings, work effort, education, nutrition,...

  • Dynamic inconsistency
    Dynamic inconsistency
    In economics, dynamic inconsistency, or time inconsistency, describes a situation where a decision-maker's preferences change over time in such a way that what is preferred at one point in time is inconsistent with what is preferred at another point in time...

  • Deferred gratification
    Deferred gratification
    Deferred gratification and delayed gratification denote a person’s ability to wait in order to obtain something that he or she wants. This intellectual attribute is also called impulse control, will power, self control, and “low” time preference, in economics...

  • Net present value
    Net present value
    In finance, the net present value or net present worth of a time series of cash flows, both incoming and outgoing, is defined as the sum of the present values of the individual cash flows of the same entity...