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Spring 2024


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Doganova discounting the future cover

Politics, Economics

Discounting the Future: The Ascendancy of a Political Technology

Liliana Doganova


336 pp

6 black and white illus.

Published: 2024

6 x 8



ISBN: 9781942130918

Forest fires, droughts, and rising sea levels beg a nagging question: have we lost our capacity to act on the future? Liliana Doganova’s book sheds new light on this anxious query. It argues that our relationship to the future has been trapped in the gears of a device called discounting. While its incidence remains little known, discounting has long been entrenched in market and policy practices, shaping the ways firms and governments look to the future and make decisions accordingly. Thus, a sociological account of discounting formulas has become urgent.

Discounting means valuing things through the flows of costs and benefits that they are likely to generate in the future, with these future flows being literally dis-counted as they are translated in the present. How have we come to think of the future, and of valuation, in such terms? Building on original empirical research in the historical sociology of discounting, Doganova takes us to some of the sites and moments in which discounting took shape and gained momentum: valuation of European forests in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; economic theories devised in the early 1900s; debates over business strategies in the postwar era; investor-state disputes over the nationalization of natural resources; and drug development in the biopharmaceutical industry today. Weaving these threads together, the book pleads for an understanding of discounting as a political technology, and of the future as a contested domain.

“This is a brilliant book… A major contribution to scholarship, and to the urgent task of imagining a new politics of value.”—Jonathan Levy

Discounting the Future is an extremely well-researched and superbly presented book on one of the most influential calculation tools used in the economy and politics alike. The technology of discounting establishes value and thus justifies and guides decisions. Doganova’s interpretation of discounting as a political technology makes the book a vital contribution to political economy.” —Jens Beckert, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies

“Discounting is now the most common technique used by companies and governments to decide on how much to invest and in which projects. It contributes to the reasons behind climate inaction as well as to the shortsightedness and shyness of decision makers. Doganova’s needed book takes us on a historical journey to discover the ambivalence of the mathematical economic formula and its puzzling construction of the relationship between present and future: a present whose value lies only in the future and a future that is worth less than the present.” —Eve Chiapello, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

“This is a brilliant book. Creatively and patiently, Doganova shows how and why the seemingly mundane practice of discounting transformed our relationship to time, and with that transformed how we value the world and our place in it. A major contribution to scholarship, and to the urgent task of imagining a new politics of value.” —Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago