It looks like Matt’s not the only brilliant economist campaigning for Pigovian taxation of carbon emissions. Now Greg Mankiw’s weighed in on the side of taxation. To those who claim a carbon tax is regressive because poor people are forced to live in the suburbs and drive more than the wealthy, Mankiw says
Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts, has shown how revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce payroll taxes in a way that would leave the distribution of total tax burden approximately unchanged.
In addition, the Economist points out that
…it’s possible that a carbon tax might sharply reduce carbon output without any fall in oil consumption, so long as consumers of other fuels affected by the tax reduce their use of such pollutants and their consequent emissions,
although this seems like a bit of a long shot.
In NZ, the government has preferred a cap-and-trade system to carbon taxes. Mankiw mentions that this is equivalent to a carbon tax only if the permits are auctioned off. If they are allocated for free based on previous emissions, as I believe the case will be in NZ (please correct me here if I’m completely mistaken), then “…the prices of energy products would rise as they would under a carbon tax, but the government would collect no revenue to reduce other taxes and compensate consumers.” In other words, a cap-and-trade with grandfathered permits IS regressive and it’s expensive to redress the burden on the poor.