Friday, December 07, 2007

Pigovian Tacks

Conventional estimates put the appropriate level for a carbon tax (to combat global warming) at the equivalent of between 10 cents and one dollar per galoon of gasoline. I've been driving on the highway in Connecticut today, and judging by the mix and behavior of vehicles after several years of rapidly rising gasoline prices, my intestinal econometrics tells me that $1 would not be anywhere near enough to have a significant impact: a dollar a gallon is basically saying we don't care much about global warming, or at least that we don't intend to address it primarily by reducing use of carbon-based fuels.

My modest (really!) proposal: a carbon tax equivalent to about $5 per gallon, to be phased in over, say, 10 years, with the first few increments to be fully rebated as lump sum transfers and later increments to be partially rebated and partially applied to. Medicare or other federal health care programs, with some provision for flexibility based on economic and budgetary conditions. Along with huge punitive tariffs on goods with Chinese content until the Chinese adopt similar policies.

Since most people seem to think even 10 cents per gallon is too much, my money would be on global warming. Unfortunately, because uncertainty is a big part of the problem, it's hard to know how to play it. If Case and Shiller come up with a futures contract for beachfront properties, though, it sounds like a good long-term short. But the contract would have to specify what happens when some fraction of the index ends up underwater (literally).



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15 Comments:

Anonymous gopigougo said...

I like it, it's a very good policy, $5 per gallon. I vote for you knzn.
Car users have been telling me that they would get out of their cars if comfortable, not overcrowded, and convenient, and timely transit was available. It's really tough to give up the cushy comfort of a car to stand in the rain, snow, or cold, in the dark, or standy in a smelly or damp bus.
I'm lucky here - I live at the end of the line and I always get a seat on the bus. Most of the time the driver remembers to put the heat on or air conditioning when that is needed. I've gotten used to the schedule, etc., etc. I prefer taking the bus to owning a car.
I convinced two (maybe three) people at work recently to switch from driving to work to taking the bus. I told them that I really like taking the bus. I can look outside and vedge or read or check out people, or whatever. No road rage. It's fun. And it's real easy on the budget. After they started taking the bus, they told me that they also like it better than driving. Granted we have a good bus system (not frequent, but places to sit) where I live.
Governments need to place a bunch more deterrents on driving, but they also need to offer palatable alternatives.

Fri Dec 07, 07:53:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Lord said...

Go long the next to beachfront property.

Sat Dec 08, 12:48:00 PM EST  
Anonymous pacific said...

Pacific Coast here - I'm about 40 feet above sea level, but could potentially eventually find myself on a pretty small island. Not quite sure. And who knows, if there's an earthquake, the "hill" could potentially slide into the ocean. But heck, it's beautiful.

Sat Dec 08, 03:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Karl Smith said...

The optimal tax is unrelated to the elasticity of demand for the dirty good. I'll go into detail if I get a chance

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