Subsistence, Substitutability and Sustainability in Consumption

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We propose a representation of individual preferences with a subsistence requirement in consumption, and examine its implications for substitutability and sustainability. Specifically, we generalize the standard constant-elasticity-of-substitution (CES) utility specification for manufactured goods and environmental services, by adding a subsistence requirement for environmental services. We find that the Hicksian elasticity of substitution strictly monotonically increases with the consumption of environmental services above the subsistence requirement, and approaches the standard CES value as consumption becomes very large. Whether the two goods are market substitutes depends on the level of income. We further show that the subsistence requirement may jeopardize the existence of an intertemporally optimal and sustainable consumption path. Our results have important implications for growth, development and environmental policy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental and Resource Economics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)47-66
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 01.05.2017