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The Two-Part Instrument in a Second-Best World

  • Don Fullerton
  • Ann Wolverton

The standard theory that the first-best tax on pollution is equal to marginal environmental damages has been extended in two directions. First, many polluting activities are difficult to tax because they are not market transactions, and so recent papers have shown that the same effects can be achieved by use of a two-part instrument a tax on one market transaction such as output or income and a subsidy to a different market transaction that is a clean alternative to pollution. It is a generalization of a deposit-refund system. Second, a different literature concerns the second-best optimal pollution tax in the presence of other tax distortions. Here, we combine the two extensions by looking at the second-best two-part instrument (2PI). When government needs revenue, is the deposit larger and the rebate smaller? We find explicit solutions for each tax and subsidy in a general equilibrium model with other tax distortions, and we compare these to the rates in a first-best model. The tax-subsidy combination is explained in terms of a tax effect, an environmental effect, and a revenue effect. The model allows for flexible interpretation, to show various applications of the 2PI. We also discuss important caveats, cases where the 2PI may not be appropriate.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10140.

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Date of creation: Dec 2003
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Publication status: published as Fullerton, Don and Ann Wolverton. "The Two-Part Instrument In A Second-Best World," Journal of Public Economics, 2005, v89(9-10,Sep), 1961-1975.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10140
Note: PE EEE
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  1. Don Fullerton & Sarah West, 1999. "Can Taxes on Cars and on Gasoline Mimic an Unavailable Tax on Emissions?," NBER Working Papers 7059, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sandmo, Agnar, 1974. "A Note on the Structure of Optimal Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(4), pages 701-06, September.
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  8. Bovenberg, A.L. & Goulder, L.H., 1996. "Optimal environmental taxation in the presence of other taxes : General equilibrium analyses," Other publications TiSEM 5d4b7517-c5c8-4ef6-ab76-3, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  9. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Dasgupta, P, 1971. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods and Economic Efficiency," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 151-74, April.
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  12. Ronnie Schöb, 1997. "Environmental Taxes and Pre-Existing Distortions: The Normalization Trap," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 167-176, May.
  13. Alan J. Auerbach, 1982. "The Theory of Excess Burden and Optimal Taxation," NBER Working Papers 1025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. de Bovenberg, A Lans & Mooij, Ruud A, 1994. "Environmental Levies and Distortionary Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 1085-89, September.
  15. Kim Seung-Rae, 2002. "Optimal Environmental Regulation in the Presence of Other Taxes: The Role of Non-separable Preferences and Technology," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-27, July.
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  19. Don Fullerton & Ann Wolverton, 1997. "The Case for a Two-Part Instrument: Presumptive Tax and Environmental Subsidy," NBER Working Papers 5993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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