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The Welfare Impact of Indirect Pigouvian Taxation: Evidence from Transportation

Author

Listed:
  • Christopher R. Knittel
  • Ryan Sandler

Abstract

A basic tenet of economics posits that when consumers or firms don't face the true social cost of their actions, market outcomes are inefficient. In the case of negative externalities, Pigouvian taxes are one way to correct this market failure, where the optimal tax leads agents to internalize the true cost of their actions. A practical complication, however, is that the level of externality nearly always varies across economic agents and directly taxing the externality may be infeasible. In such cases, policy often taxes a product correlated with the externality. For example, instead of taxing vehicle emissions directly, policy makers may tax gasoline even though per-gallon emissions vary across vehicles. This paper estimates the implications of this approach within the personal transportation market. We have three general empirical results. First, we show that vehicle emissions are positively correlated with vehicle elasticities for miles traveled with respect to fuel prices (in absolute value)--i.e. dirtier vehicles respond more to fuel prices. This correlation substantially increases the optimal second-best uniform gasoline tax. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we show that a uniform tax performs very poorly in eliminating deadweight loss associated with vehicle emissions; in many years in our sample over 75 percent of the deadweight loss remains under the optimal second-best gasoline tax. Substantial improvements to market efficiency require differentiating based on vehicle type, for example vintage. Finally, there is a more positive result: because of the positive correlation between emissions and elasticities, the health benefits from a given gasoline tax increase by roughly 90 percent, compared to what one would expect if emissions and elasticities were uncorrelated.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher R. Knittel & Ryan Sandler, 2013. "The Welfare Impact of Indirect Pigouvian Taxation: Evidence from Transportation," NBER Working Papers 18849, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18849
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2011. "Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon for Use in U.S. Federal Rulemakings: A Summary and Interpretation," NBER Working Papers 16913, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jonathan E. Hughes & Christopher R. Knittel & Daniel Sperling, 2008. "Evidence of a Shift in the Short-Run Price Elasticity of Gasoline Demand," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 29(1), pages 113-134.
    3. Peter A. Diamond, 1973. "Consumption Externalities and Imperfect Corrective Pricing," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 4(2), pages 526-538, Autumn.
    4. Sarah E. West, 2005. "Equity Implications of Vehicle Emissions Taxes," Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, University of Bath, vol. 39(1), pages 1-24, January.
    5. Michael L. Anderson & Maximilian Auffhammer, 2014. "Pounds That Kill: The External Costs of Vehicle Weight," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(2), pages 535-571.
    6. Matthew E. Kahn, 1996. "New Evidence on Trends in Vehicle Emissions," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(1), pages 183-196, Spring.
    7. Ryan Sandler, 2012. "Clunkers or Junkers? Adverse Selection in a Vehicle Retirement Program," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 253-281, November.
    8. Nicholas Z. Muller & Robert Mendelsohn, 2009. "Efficient Pollution Regulation: Getting the Prices Right," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1714-1739, December.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Linn, Joshua, 2013. "The Rebound Effect for Passenger Vehicles," Discussion Papers dp-13-19-rev, Resources For the Future.
    2. De Borger, Bruno & Mulalic, Ismir & Rouwendal, Jan, 2016. "Substitution between cars within the household," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 135-156.
    3. Grigolon, Laura & Reynaert, Mathias & Verboven, Frank, 2014. "Consumer valuation of fuel costs and the effectiveness of tax policy: Evidence from the European car market," CEPR Discussion Papers 10301, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Gillingham, Kenneth, 2014. "Identifying the elasticity of driving: Evidence from a gasoline price shock in California," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 13-24.
    5. Mark R. Jacobsen & Arthur A. van Benthem, 2013. "Vehicle Scrappage and Gasoline Policy," NBER Working Papers 19055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Allcott, Hunt & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Taubinsky, Dmitry, 2014. "Energy policy with externalities and internalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 72-88.
    7. Mark R. Jacobsen & Christopher R. Knittel & James M. Sallee & Arthur A. van Benthem, 2016. "Sufficient Statistics for Imperfect Externality-Correcting Policies," NBER Working Papers 22063, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Joshua Linn, 2016. "The Rebound Effect for Passenger Vehicles," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2).
    9. Hymel, Kent M. & Small, Kenneth A., 2015. "The rebound effect for automobile travel: Asymmetric response to price changes and novel features of the 2000s," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 93-103.
    10. Kenneth Gillingham & Anders Munk-Nielsen, 2016. "A Tale of Two Tails: Commuting and the Fuel Price Response in Driving," NBER Working Papers 22937, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Jeremy West & Mark Hoekstra & Jonathan Meer & Steven L. Puller, 2015. "Vehicle Miles (Not) Traveled: Why Fuel Economy Requirements Don't Increase Household Driving," NBER Working Papers 21194, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Kent M. Hymel & Kenneth Small, 2014. "The Rebound Effect for Automobile Travel:Asymmetric Response to Price Changes and Novel Features of the 2000s," Working Papers 141503, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
    13. Gillingham, Kenneth & Jenn, Alan & Azevedo, InĂªs M.L., 2015. "Heterogeneity in the response to gasoline prices: Evidence from Pennsylvania and implications for the rebound effect," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(S1), pages 41-52.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • L91 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Transportation: General
    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy
    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • Q52 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Pollution Control Adoption and Costs; Distributional Effects; Employment Effects
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q58 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Government Policy

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