Second-Best Pigouvian Taxation: A Clarification

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This paper argues that the search for a “purely environmental” component of a tax on goods or factors of production that impact the environment—separate from its redistributive and distortive effects—is fraught with difficulties. The quest is often impossible because of the interconnectedness between labor supply, consumption decisions and the environmental quality. The paper differentiates between two conceptualization for “the Pigouvian tax” that have been employed in the literature and argues that each has tried to isolate the environmental component in its own way. One conceptualization, due to Cremer et al. (J Public Econ 70:343–364, 1998) does so by ruling out direct feedback from changes in environmental quality on the incentive effect of the tax. In the second conceptualization, due to Bovenberg and Ploeg’s (J Public Econ 55:349–390, 1994), incentive effects are ruled out by making consumers’ valuation of environmental quality independent of the labor supply. This is achieved by assuming separability between labor supply and other goods (including environmental equality). To convey its message, the paper studies the properties of optimal polluting and non-polluting non-labor input taxes in a Mirrleesian model with endogenously determined wages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-535
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental and Resource Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2014


  • Environmental quality
  • Pigouvian taxes
  • Second-best taxes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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