Perfect and total altruism across the generations

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Abstract

The traditional formulation of the altruism model has altruistic terms that relate solely to other parties' felicities from consumption. But if those others are altruistic as well, their altruism benefits are being neglected. Total altruism takes the total utilities of others, rather than their mere felicities, as the basis for altruistic valuations. We assess total altruism in an intergenerational world. Perfect altruism, a concept due to Ramsey (Econ. J. 38(152):543–559, 1928), requires that a generation value itself relative to its successor as it would any two consecutive generations. Total altruism and perfect altruism prove to be incompatible concepts. Total altruism is only meaningful when there is some generational selfishness. The analysis considers both forward-looking and forward and backward-looking altruism.

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