Delayed gratification

20th May, 2006

Dear Economist,

I live in Bondi Junction, Sydney, about 70 metres above sea level. On sunny mornings I cycle down to Bondi Beach for a swim before work. Coasting 3km downhill is fun, but puffing back up is tedious. Like many people, I prefer to save up the best for last. Is there some way I can store up the downhill utility and draw on it as I pedal uphill? An analogy might be Kentucky Fried Chicken: I am an occasional consumer, and I love the taste as it goes down, but hate the queasy feeling afterwards. I’m sure I would eat more KFC if I could get the queasy feeling over with first, and then enjoy the taste. There must be loads of demand out there for a delayed-utility function.

Alex Dobes, Sydney

Dear Alex,

It is fascinating to hear that you would chomp down more fried food if only the experience could begin with feeling sick. Sadly, I know of nothing that can delay utility until the appropriate moment, with the possible exception of chocolate. But I can suggest the next best thing: since your quest for delayed gratification is so extreme, you simply need to save all the money you can and spend it in your twilight years. Money cannot directly buy utility but it helps.

Better yet, your discount rate is actually negative. This means that you would rather have $95 next year than $100 now…

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