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Tax Policy to Combat Global Warming: On Designing a Carbon Tax

  • James M. Poterba

This paper develops several points concerning the design and implementation of a carbon tax. First, if implemented without any offsetting changes in transfer programs, the carbon tax would be regressive. This regressivity could be offset with changes in either the direct tax system or transfers. Second, the production and consumption distortions associated with small carbon taxes, on the order of $5/ton of carbon, are relatively small: less than $1 billion per year for the United States. Stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions at their 1988 levels by the year 2000, however, would require a carbon tax ten to twenty times this size. It would more than triple the producer price of coal and nearly double the producer prices of petroleum and natural gas, would have much more significant private efficiency effects. Third, a central issue of carbon tax design is harmonization with other fiscal instruments designed to reduce greenhouse warming. Ensuring comparability between taxes rates on chlorofluorocarbons and fossil fuels is particularly important to avoid unnecessary distortions in production or consumption decisions.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3649.

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Date of creation: Mar 1991
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Global Warming: Economic Policy Responses, edited by Rudiger Dornbusch and James M. Poterba, pp. 71-98. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3649
Note: PE
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  1. Poterba, James M & Rotemberg, Julio J & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "A Tax-Based Test for Nominal Rigidities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 659-75, September.
  2. James M. Poterba, 1991. "Is the Gasoline Tax Regressive?," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 5, pages 145-164 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Davies, James B & St-Hilaire, France & Whalley, John, 1984. "Some Calculations of Lifetime Tax Incidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 633-49, September.
  4. Poterba, James M, 1989. "Lifetime Incidence and the Distributional Burden of Excise Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 325-30, May.
  5. Lester B. Lave, 1987. "The greenhouse effect: What government actions are needed?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 7(3), pages 460-470.
  6. Charles L. Ballard & Don Fullerton & John B. Shoven & John Whalley, 1985. "A General Equilibrium Model for Tax Policy Evaluation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number ball85-1, December.
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