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A Distributional Analysis of an Environmental Tax Shift

  • Gilbert E. Metcalf

I use data from the 1994 Consumer Expenditure Survey as well as other sources to measure the distributional impact of green tax reforms and consumption tax reforms using both annual income and lifetime income approaches to rank households. A modest tax reform in which environmental taxes equal to 10% of federal receipts are collected has a negligible impact on the income distribution when the funds are rebated to households through reductions in the payroll tax and personal income tax. The degree of income shifting can be adjusted with changes in how the revenues are returned to households and it is possible to increase the progressivity of the tax system with an environmental tax reform. I then compare these reforms to a reform that shifts the tax base from income to consumption. In this case, it is difficult to maintain the level of progressivity that exists under the current income tax although ways exist by which the regressivity of the reform could be blunted. Whether the long term growth gains from consumption tax reform would offset the initial increase in regressivity remains to be determined. A shift to greater reliance on environmental taxes would reduce the progressivity of the tax system. This analysis indicates that reforms can be designed to preserve the existing income distribution. In fact, it appears to be easier to maintain distributional neutrality with a Green tax reform than with a comprehensive consumption tax reform.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6546.

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Date of creation: May 1998
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Publication status: published as National Tax Journal, Vol. 52, no. 4 (1999): 655-681.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6546
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  1. Lawrence H. Goulder, 1994. "Energy Taxes: Traditional Efficiency Effects and Environmental Implications," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 8, pages 105-158 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Martin Feldstein, 1987. "Imputing Corporate Tax Liabilities to Individual Taxpayers," NBER Working Papers 2349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Ballard, Charles L. & Fullerton, Don & Shoven, John B. & Whalley, John, 2009. "A General Equilibrium Model for Tax Policy Evaluation," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226036335.
  4. Nicholas Bull & Kevin A. Hassett & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1993. "Who pays broad-based energy taxes? Computing lifetime and regional incidence," Working Paper Series / Economic Activity Section 142, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Poterba, J.M., 1989. "Lifetime Incidence And The Distributional Burden Of Excise Taxes," Working papers 510, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. James M. Poterba, 1991. "Is the Gasoline Tax Regressive?," NBER Working Papers 3578, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Fullerton, Don & Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2001. "Environmental controls, scarcity rents, and pre-existing distortions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 249-267, May.
  8. Daniel R. Feenberg & Andrew W. Mitrusi & James M. Poterba, 1997. "Distributional Effects of Adopting a National Retail Sales Tax," NBER Working Papers 5885, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Feldstein, Martin, 1988. "Imputing Corporate Tax Liabilities to Individual Taxpayers," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 41(1), pages 37-59, March.
  10. Don Fullerton & Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1997. "Environmental Taxes and the Double-Dividend Hypothesis: Did You Really Expect Something for Nothing?," NBER Working Papers 6199, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Bovenberg, A.L. & de Mooij, R.A., 1994. "Environmental levies and distortionary taxation," Other publications TiSEM 4b32deaa-ec2f-4de7-b59b-9, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  12. Parry Ian W. H., 1995. "Pollution Taxes and Revenue Recycling," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages S64-S77, November.
  13. 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.
  14. Pearce, David W, 1991. "The Role of Carbon Taxes in Adjusting to Global Warming," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 938-48, July.
  15. Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1997. "Measuring the Incidence of a National Retail Sales Tax: Annual Versus Lifetime Incidence Measures," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9702, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
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