A Question for the Pigou Club
| Peter Klein |
A few years ago Greg Mankiw coined the term Pigou Club, a label for those (like himself) who advocate higher Pigouvian taxes on gasoline consumption and other high-carbon-footprint activities. Personally, I don’t find the Pigouvian analysis very convincing, in this or the more general case. First, the idea of efficient Pigouvian taxes and subsidies ignores subjective value and the Hayekian knowledge problem. How can government officials possibly choose tax or subsidy amounts that compensate for the actual harm suffered by, or benefit enjoyed by, all possible third parties for all activities generating externalities? The problem is several orders of magnitude more complex than what is typically described in the the textbooks. As a mechanism design problem, it is as difficult as the general socialist calculation problem itself (and you know how I feel about that). Second, the Pigouvian approach ignores comparative institutional analysis altogether. What are the efficiency consequences of establishing, empowering, and funding a government agency to compute and implement Pigouvian taxes and subsidies? Where will the tax revenues go? How will the subsidies be financed? What are the effects of these distortions?
My preference is to treat “negative externalities” as torts, with property titles assigned by the homesteading principle rather than Coasean wealth maximization criteria. (Essentially the Rothbardian view.)
But my main beef with today’s Pigouvians is that they cherry-pick a case here and there — taxes on gasoline, primarily — without fully pursuing the implications of the analysis. If increasing gasoline taxes is efficient, why stop there? What other market failures should the state be empowered to remedy? Here’s my question, specifically:
Please name the activities you believe deserve Pigouvian subsidies. For each activity provide the efficient subsidy amount, explain how this was calculated, and say how the revenues should be raised.
I don’t recall Mankiw discussing Pigouvian subsidies on his blog. Greg, help us out!