Suggested Subsidies are Sub-Optimal Unless Combined with an Output Tax

28 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2002 Last revised: 24 Jan 2002

See all articles by Don Fullerton

Don Fullerton

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Robert D. Mohr

University of New Hampshire - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 2002

Abstract

Because of difficulties measuring pollution, many prior papers suggest a subsidy to some observable method of reducing pollution. We take three papers from the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management as examples, and we extend them to make an additional important point. In each case, we show that welfare under the suggested subsidy can be increased by the addition of an output tax. While the suggested subsidy reduces damage per unit of output, it also decreases the firm's cost of production and the equilibrium break-even price. It might therefore increase output -- unless combined with an output tax. Using one example, we show that a properly-constructed subsidy-tax combination is equivalent to a Pigovian tax. Another example is a computational model, used to show that the subsidy-tax combination can yield a welfare gain that is more than three times the gain from using the subsidy alone. The third example is a theoretical model, used to show that the subsidy alone increases production and thus could increase total pollution. An additional output tax offsets this increase in production.

Suggested Citation

Fullerton, Don and Mohr, Robert D., Suggested Subsidies are Sub-Optimal Unless Combined with an Output Tax (January 2002). NBER Working Paper No. w8723. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=297349

Don Fullerton (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Finance ( email )

1206 South Sixth Street
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
(217) 244-3621 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Robert D. Mohr

University of New Hampshire - Department of Economics ( email )

Durham, NH 03824
United States

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