Can carbon taxes be progressive?
Most studies have assessed the distributional impact of carbon taxes through their effects on commodity prices alone, while ignoring their impact on individual welfare brought about by changes in factor prices. Yet, the remunerations of capital and labor are not affected by these taxes similarly, and their shares in earned incomes are not uniform across households. This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the incidence of carbon taxes on inequality by considering simultaneously the commodity and the income channels. We propose a decomposition of the change in individual welfare metrics. Then, we develop a general equilibrium model to assess the impact of carbon taxes on factor and commodity prices, and subsequently their distributional impact on households, using the Lorenz and concentration curves and the Gini index. Our results suggest that changes in factor prices and changes in commodity prices (especially those of energy commodities) have opposing effects on inequality. Carbon taxes tend to reduce inequality through the changes in factor prices and tend to increase inequality through the changes in commodity prices. Hence, we find a non-monotonic (U-shaped) relationship between carbon taxes and inequality. Our results suggest that the traditional approach of assessing the impact of carbon taxes on inequality through changes in commodity prices alone may be misleading. The findings cast light on the desirability of using both channels in the assessment of carbon taxes on inequality.
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