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Distributional effects of environmental taxes on transportation: evidence from Engel curves in the United States


  • Erling Røed Larsen



Indirect taxes on transportation activities that pollute can correct externalities and close the gaps between private and social costs. However, policy makers often find such Pigou taxes difficult to implement because of political resistance due to possibly adverse affects on equity. For this reason it is important to assess the distributional aspects of environmental levies. This article estimates properties of the demand for transportation in parametric and non-parametric analyses of Consumer Expenditure Surveys for the United States and finds patterns in the resulting set of Engel curves. Private transportation using air flights and new cars has Engel elasticity above unity while public transportation via mass transit has Engel elasticity below unity. The findings can be interpreted in an important way since they show that a differentiated scheme of environmental taxes on transportation may function progressively. A Pigou scheme with larger taxes on modes of transportation that pollute more appears to coincide with larger levies on luxury modes preferred by richer households. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Suggested Citation

  • Erling Røed Larsen, 2006. "Distributional effects of environmental taxes on transportation: evidence from Engel curves in the United States," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 29(3), pages 301-318, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jcopol:v:29:y:2006:i:3:p:301-318
    DOI: 10.1007/s10603-006-9009-y

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. de Bovenberg, A Lans & Mooij, Ruud A, 1994. "Environmental Levies and Distortionary Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 1085-1089, September.
    2. Richard W. Blundell & Martin Browning & Ian A. Crawford, 2003. "Nonparametric Engel Curves and Revealed Preference," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(1), pages 205-240, January.
    3. S. Proost & D. Regemorter, 1995. "The double dividend and the role of inequality aversion and macroeconomic regimes," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 2(2), pages 207-219, August.
    4. Richard Blundell & Alan Duncan & Krishna Pendakur, 1998. "Semiparametric estimation and consumer demand," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(5), pages 435-461.
    5. John DiNardo & Justin L. Tobias, 2001. "Nonparametric Density and Regression Estimation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(4), pages 11-28, Fall.
    6. Brita Bye & Snorre Kverndokk & Knut Rosendahl, 2002. "Mitigation costs, distributional effects, and ancillary benefits of carbon policies in the Nordic countries, the U.K., and Ireland," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 339-366, December.
    7. Aasness, Jorgen & Biorn, Erik & Skjerpen, Terje, 1993. "Engel Functions, Panel Data, and Latent Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(6), pages 1395-1422, November.
    8. Adonis Yatchew, 1998. "Nonparametric Regression Techniques in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 669-721, June.
    9. Mayeres, Inge & Proost, Stef, 1997. " Optimal Tax and Public Investment Rules for Congestion Type of Externalities," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(2), pages 261-279, June.
    10. Richard Schmalensee & Thomas M. Stoker, 1999. "Household Gasoline Demand in the United States," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(3), pages 645-662, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bureau, Benjamin & Glachant, Matthieu, 2011. "Distributional effects of public transport policies in the Paris Region," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(5), pages 745-754, September.
    2. Bureau, Benjamin, 2011. "Distributional effects of a carbon tax on car fuels in France," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 121-130, January.
    3. Bühler, Georg & Hoffmann, Tim & Wölfing, Nikolas & Schmidt, Markus, 2009. "Wettbewerb und Umweltregulierung im Verkehr: Eine Analyse zur unterschiedlichen Einbindung der Verkehrsarten in den Emissionshandel," ZEW Expertises, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research, number 110505.


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