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Optimal Dynamic Carbon Taxes in a Climate–Economy Model with Distortionary Fiscal Policy

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  • Lint Barrage

Abstract

How should carbon be taxed as a part of fiscal policy? The literature on optimal carbon pricing often abstracts from other taxes. However, when governments raise revenues with distortionary taxes, carbon levies have fiscal impacts. While they raise revenues directly, they may shrink the bases of other taxes (e.g. by decreasing employment). This article theoretically characterizes and then quantifies optimal carbon taxes in a dynamic general equilibrium climate–economy model with distortionary fiscal policy. First, this article establishes a novel theoretical relationship between the optimal taxation of carbon and of capital income. This link arises because carbon emissions destroy natural capital: they accumulate in the atmosphere and decrease future output. Consequently, this article shows how the standard logic against capital income taxes extends to distortions on environmental capital investments. Second, this article characterizes optimal climate policy in sub-optimal fiscal settings where income taxes are constrained to remain at their observed levels. Third, this article presents a detailed calibration that builds on the seminal DICE approach but adds features essential for a setting with distortionary taxes, such as a differentiation between climate change production impacts (e.g. on agriculture) and direct utility impacts (e.g. on biodiversity existence value). The central quantitative finding is that optimal carbon tax schedules are 8–24% lower when there are distortionary taxes, compared to the setting with lump-sum taxes considered in the literature.

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  • Lint Barrage, 2020. "Optimal Dynamic Carbon Taxes in a Climate–Economy Model with Distortionary Fiscal Policy," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(1), pages 1-39.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:87:y:2020:i:1:p:1-39.
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    1. Richard S. J. Tol, 2020. "Selfish Bureaucrats And Policy Heterogeneity In Nordhaus’ Dice," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 11(04), pages 1-16, November.
    2. Ferrari, Alessandro & Landi, Valerio Nispi, 2020. "Whatever it takes to save the planet? Central banks and unconventional green policy," Working Paper Series 2500, European Central Bank.
    3. Vít Pászto & Jarmila Zimmermannová & Jolana Skaličková & Judit Sági, 2020. "Spatial Patterns in Fiscal Impacts of Environmental Taxation in the EU," Economies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(4), pages 1-18, November.
    4. John Gibson & Garth Heutel, 2020. "Pollution and Labor Market Search Externalities Over the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 27445, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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