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Can Small Incentives Have Large Effects? The Impact of Taxes versus Bonuses on Disposable Bag Use

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  • Tatiana A. Homonoff

    (Princeton University)

Abstract

Financial incentives are an important policy tool for encouraging prosocial behavior. However, evidence on the effect of very small financial incentives is mixed. Drawing on an original data set, I investigate the effect of a five-cent shopping bag tax imposed in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Despite the small size of the incentive, I found that the tax decreased the fraction of customers using a disposable bag by a substantial amount. In contrast, a similar policy that offered customers a five-cent bonus for reusable bag use generated virtually no effect on behavior. This pattern is consistent with a model of loss aversion and underscores the importance of the form a financial incentive takes - a tax versus a bonus - when designing policies aimed at shaping consumer behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Tatiana A. Homonoff, 2013. "Can Small Incentives Have Large Effects? The Impact of Taxes versus Bonuses on Disposable Bag Use," Working Papers 1483, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:indrel:575
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Henry S. Farber, 2014. "Why You Can't Find a Taxi in the Rain and Other Labor Supply Lessons from Cab Drivers," NBER Working Papers 20604, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Schubert, Christian, 2017. "Green nudges: Do they work? Are they ethical?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 329-342.
    3. Lange, Ian & Moro, Mirko & Rahman, Mohammad, 2014. "Policy Labels and Investment Decision-making," Stirling Economics Discussion Papers 2014-01, University of Stirling, Division of Economics.
    4. Romaniuc Rustam, 2016. "What Makes Law to Change Behavior? An Experimental Study," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 447-475, July.
    5. Henry S. Farber, 2014. "Why You Can't Find a Taxi in the Rain and Other Labor Supply Lessons from Cab Drivers," Working Papers 583a, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    6. Farber, Henry S, 2014. "Why You Can't Find a Taxi in the Rain and Other Labor Supply Lessons from Cab Drivers," IZA Discussion Papers 8562, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    incentives; sin taxes; plastic bags; loss aversion;

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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