This is one of half-a-dozen pages compiling expressions of support for carbon taxes (or more targeted taxes, e.g., on gasoline) by notable individuals and organizations. To access other pages with different supporter categories, click on the Progress link on the navigation bar and move to the desired category.
Economists comprise the most vocal — even vociferous — community of carbon-tax supporters. This is unsurprising, insofar as “one of the first principles of economics — perhaps the most important — is that people respond to incentives,” and a carbon tax is the embodiment of incentives, provided its level is sufficiently robust.
The quote above is taken from Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw, whom we designate below as one of the two most persistent and persuasive pro-carbon-tax economists. The other is Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank.
We begin by referencing the 68-page Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices composed by a 13-member council of luminaries supported by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition and published in May 2017 by the World Bank.
The 13-member council was chaired by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz (U.S.) and Lord Nicholas Stern (U.K.) and was drawn from seven other countries as well: Brazil, France, China, India, Indonesia, Mali and South Africa.
The report “identif[ied] the range of carbon prices that, together with other supportive policies, would deliver on the Paris climate targets agreed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015,” according to the council’s press release, which was issued under the title, Leading Economists: A Strong Carbon Price Needed to Drive Large-Scale Climate Action. It found that “meeting the world’s agreed climate goals in the most cost-effective way while fostering growth requires countries to set a strong carbon price, with the goal of reaching $40-$80 per metric ton of CO2 by 2020 and $50-100 per metric ton by 2030.”
The report stated that “a well-designed carbon price is an indispensable part of a strategy for efficiently reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also fostering growth [and] that a strong and predictable carbon-price trajectory provides a powerful signal to individuals and firms that the future is low carbon, inducing the changes needed in global investment, production, and consumption patterns.”
“Specific carbon price levels will need to be tailored to country conditions and policy choices,” said Commission member, Professor Harald Winkler of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. “Carbon pricing makes sense in all countries, but low-income countries, which may be more challenged to protect the people vulnerable to the initial economic impacts, may decide to start pricing carbon at a lower level and gradually increase over time.”
Other broad expressions of economists’ support for carbon taxing
In an April 1, 2012 column in The New York Times, Prof. Richard H. Thaler of the U-Chicago Booth School of Business aptly summed up the near-unanimity among economists that carbon taxing is the optimal way to reduce CO2 emissions: “Consider a recent poll of a panel of economists conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where I teach… [Forty-one] economists in [a poll conducted by the] University of Chicago … were asked whether they agreed with this statement: ‘A tax on the carbon content of fuels would be a less expensive way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions than would a collection of policies such as ‘corporate average fuel economy’ requirements for automobiles.’ On this question, there was just a single negative vote.” (Why Gas Prices Are Out of Any President’s Control).
In 2011, The Economist asked, Do All Economists Favour a Carbon Tax?
Carbon emissions represent a negative externality. When an individual takes an economic action with some fossil-fuel energy content—whether running a petrol-powered lawnmower, turning on a light, or buying bunch of grapes—that person balances their personal benefits against the costs of the action. The cost to them of the climate change resulting from the carbon content of that decisions, however, is effectively zero and is rationally ignored. The decision to ignore carbon content, when aggregated over the whole of humanity, generates huge carbon dioxide emissions and rising global temperatures.
The economic solution is to tax the externality so that the social cost of carbon is reflected in the individual consumer’s decision. The carbon tax is an elegant solution to a complicated problem, which allows the everyday business of consumer decision making to do the work of emission reduction. It’s by no means the only economically sensible policy response to the threat of climate change, but it is the one we’d expect economists to embrace.
Economists overwhelmingly support a well-designed national carbon tax. In 2012, a University of Chicago survey asked 40 prominent economists from across the political spectrum whether they would prefer the government to raise revenue through traditional income taxes or via a national carbon tax. Not one chose the income tax approach.
Finally, we have: A majority of economists polled by the Wall Street Journal during Feb. 2-7, 2007:
The government should encourage development of alternatives to fossil fuels, economists said in a WSJ.com survey. But most say the best way to do that isn’t in President Bush’s energy proposals: a new tax on fossil fuels. Forty of 47 economists who answered the question said the government should help champion alternative fuels. “Economists generally are in favor of free-market solutions, but there are times when you need to intervene,” said David Wyss at Standard & Poor’s Corp. “We’re already in the danger zone” because of the outlook for oil supplies and concerns about climate change, he said. A majority of the economists said a tax on fossil fuels would be the most economically sound way to encourage alternatives. A tax would raise the price of fossil fuels and make alternatives, which today often are more costly to produce, more competitive in the consumer market. “A tax puts pressure on the market, rather than forcing an artificial solution on it,” said Mr. Wyss. (WSJ, Is It Time for a New Tax on Energy?, Feb. 8, 2007; the foregoing text is lifted directly from the article.)
Two standout pro-carbon-tax economists: Greg Mankiw and Bob Frank
Two Ivy League university economics professors occupying somewhat opposing positions on the usual left-right spectrum are arguably their profession’s most ubiquitous advocates for taxing carbon emissions.
Gregory Mankiw (Harvard), a proud centrist (or right-of-centrist), is a distinguished pedagogue and political adviser. He chaired President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers (2003-2005) and was senior economic advisor to the 2012 Romney for President campaign.
Robert H. Frank (Cornell), author of The Winner-Take-All Society and The Darwin Economy, and, in 2020, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work ranks with Mankiw in his unceasing and imaginative advocacy of carbon and other “Pigovian” taxes. He also carries on Thorstein Veblen’s critique of “conspicuous consumption,” framing it as an argument for sharply higher taxes on wealth.
In a Sept 2020 column in the NY Times Sunday business section, Pay People to Get Vaccinated, Mankiw used carbon taxing as a template to support the proposal by Brookings Institution economist Bob Litan for the U.S. government to achieve high Coronavirus vaccination rates by paying Americans to take a prospective vaccine. Mankiw wrote:
Immunology, meet economics. One of the first principles of economics — perhaps the most important — is that people respond to incentives. Applying this principle to the case at hand, Mr. Litan recommends that the government pay $1,000 to whoever gets the vaccine. With a large enough incentive, most Americans are likely to get vaccinated.
This proposal is textbook economics. (I’ve written some of the textbooks.) As all economics students learn, when an activity has a side effect on bystanders, that effect is called an externality. In the presence of externalities, the famous theorems of economics that justify laissez-faire do not apply. Adam Smith’s vaunted invisible hand can no longer work its magic.
A classic example of a negative externality is pollution, and the simplest and least invasive policy solution is a tax on emissions. In economics-speak, such a tax internalizes the externality: It induces polluters to take the cost of pollution into account by giving them a financial incentive to cut emissions. That’s why I have written here many times that a tax on carbon emissions is the best way to deal with global climate change.
Vaccination confers a positive externality. When you get vaccinated, you benefit not only yourself but also your fellow citizens by helping society take a step toward herd immunity. In this case, internalizing the externality requires not a tax but a subsidy, as Mr. Litan suggests.
In late 2012, Mankiw wrote in a NY Times op-ed, Wishful Thinking and Middle-Class Taxes (Dec. 29, 2012):
Ultimately, unless we scale back entitlement programs far more than anyone in Washington is now seriously considering, we will have no choice but to increase taxes on a vast majority of Americans. This could involve higher tax rates or an elimination of popular deductions. Or it could mean an entirely new tax, such as a value-added tax or a carbon tax. (emphasis added)
While that was only a mild endorsement of a carbon tax, the timing was noteworthy, coming in the late stages of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and less than two months after Romney’s defeat in an election campaign in which he had belittled concerns over climate disruption.
Years earlier, Mankiw powerfully made the case for a carbon tax in an op-ed, One Answer to Global Warming, in the Sept. 16, 2007 NY Times Sunday Business Section (see our blog for excerpts and discussion). His 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed pieces (Jan. 3 and Oct. 20) are among the many lively pieces available on Mankiw’s pro-fuel-tax blog, The Pigou Club Manifesto. (Economist Arthur Pigou, 1877-1959, developed the concept of economic externalities along with corrective “Pigovian” taxes.) On the last day of 2006 Mankiw reiterated his 2006 New Year’s Resolutions from his Jan. 3, 2006 WSJ piece, including:
I will tell the American people that a higher tax on gasoline is better at encouraging conservation than are heavy-handed CAFE regulations. It would not only encourage people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, but it would encourage them to drive less, such as by living closer to where they work. I will tell people that tolls are a good way to reduce traffic congestion — and with new technologies they are getting easier to collect. I will advocate a carbon tax as the best way to control global warming.
In a Sept. 16, 2006 post to his blog, Rogoff Joins the Pigou Club, Mankiw listed some three dozen other economists and pundits who have publicly advocated higher Pigovian taxes, such as gasoline taxes or carbon taxes. The list includes, in addition to several individuals mentioned here, such notables from economics, finance and journalism as Alan Greenspan, Gary Becker, William Nordhaus, Richard Posner, Anthony Lake, Martin Feldstein, Gregg Easterbrook and Lawrence Summers. (Links are included.)
In a June 1, 2008 NY Times column, The Problem With the Corporate Tax, Mankiw wrote:
I have a back-up plan for [Sen. McCain]: increase the gasoline tax. With Americans consuming about 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year, a gas-tax increase of about 40 cents a gallon could fund a corporate rate cut, fostering economic growth and reducing a variety of driving-related problems. Indeed, if we increased the tax on gasoline to the level that many experts consider optimal, we could raise enough revenue to eliminate the corporate income tax. And the price at the pump would still be far lower in the United States than in much of Europe.
In early 2012, Mankiw wrote in his NY Times column, A Better Tax System (Instructions Included):
Tax Bads Rather Than Goods: A good rule of thumb is that when you tax something, you get less of it. That means that taxes on hard work, saving and entrepreneurial risk-taking impede these fundamental drivers of economic growth. The alternative is to tax those things we would like to get less of. Consider the tax on gasoline. Driving your car is associated with various adverse side effects, which economists call externalities. These include traffic congestion, accidents, local pollution and global climate change. If the tax on gasoline were higher, people would alter their behavior to drive less. They would be more likely to take public transportation, use car pools or live closer to work. The incentives they face when deciding how much to drive would more closely match the true social costs and benefits. Economists who have added up all the externalities associated with driving conclude that a tax exceeding $2 a gallon makes sense. That would provide substantial revenue that could be used to reduce other taxes. By taxing bad things more, we could tax good things less. (Jan. 22, 2012)
We present this sampling from Prof. Frank’s columns in the NY Times Sunday business section:
Reducing CO2 emissions would actually be surprisingly easy. The most effective remedy would be a carbon tax, which would raise the after-tax price of goods in rough proportion to the size of their carbon footprint. Gasoline would become more expensive, piano lessons would not. The functional equivalent of that — a cap-and-trade system — worked spectacularly well when Congress required marketable permits for discharging sulfur dioxide (SO2) in 1995. Acid rain caused by SO2 emissions quickly plummeted, at about one-sixth the cost predicted. Once people have to pay for their emissions, they find ingenious ways of reducing them. (Shattering Myths to Help the Climate, Aug. 2, 2014)
Although an effective solution will take global coordination, America’s inaction has been a major barrier to progress. If the United States and Europe each adopted a steep carbon tax, they could elicit broader cooperation through heavy tariffs on goods produced in countries that failed to do likewise. India and China need access to our markets, giving us enormous leverage. (Shattering Myths to Help the Climate, Aug. 2, 2014)
NO one enjoys paying taxes — and no politician relishes raising them. Yet some taxes actually make us better off, even apart from the revenue they provide for public services. Taxes on activities with harmful side effects are a case in point. (Heads, You Win. Tails, You Win, Too., Jan. 5, 2013)
[W]e could insulate ourselves from catastrophic [climate] risk at relatively modest cost by enacting a steep carbon tax. Early studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that a carbon tax of up to $80 per metric ton of emissions — a tax that might raise gasoline prices by 70 cents a gallon— would eventually result in climate stability. But because recent estimates about global warming have become more pessimistic, stabilization may require a much higher tax. How hard would it be to live with a tax of, say, $300 a ton? If such a tax were phased in, the prices of goods would rise gradually in proportion to the amount of carbon dioxide their production or use entailed. The price of gasoline, for example, would slowly rise by somewhat less than $3 a gallon. Motorists in many countries already pay that much more than Americans do, and they seem to have adapted by driving substantially more efficient vehicles. (Carbon Tax Silence, Overtaken by Events, Aug. 25, 2012)
Taxes are … a far cheaper and less coercive way to curtail [harmful] behavior than laws or prescriptive regulations. That’s because taxes concentrate harm reduction in the hands of those who can alter their behavior most easily. When we tax pollution, for instance, polluters with the cheapest ways to reduce emissions rush to adopt them, thereby avoiding the tax… Every dollar raised by taxing harmful activities is one dollar less that we must raise by taxing useful ones. The resulting revenue would enable us to reduce not only the federal deficit, but also the highly regressive payroll tax. And cutting that tax would stimulate hiring and help low-income families meet the burden of new taxes on harmful activities. (Find the Taxes That Do Double Duty, Feb. 18, 2011)
In 2012, Frank used the Obama-Romney presidential race to argue for both carbon emissions pricing and congestion pricing as ways to improve economic efficiency and well-being by taxing the externalities of carbon pollution traffic and traffic congestion. In Nation’s Choices Needn’t Be Painful (Sept 22, 2012), Frank pushed back against the then-prevailing view that “the nation face[d] difficult economic choices:
Consider highway congestion. Because drivers can generally enter a congested highway without charge, they often do so — thus adding to the crowding. But many drivers would willingly pay a fee for using that road if it resulted in fewer delays. A modest congestion fee, administered with E-ZPass-style technology, would raise needed revenue and provide an incentive to use crowded roads only when the benefits outweigh the social costs.
Critics object that such fees would harm low-income households. But because the gains far exceed their price, we can redistribute them so that everyone comes out ahead. Some of the new revenue, for example, could support tax relief for low-income households.
Similar spillover effects pervade the economy. People have little incentive to consider the danger of carbon emissions, for example, or the risks that the heavy vehicles they drive are posing to others. Taxing carbon emissions and taxing vehicles by weight would expand the economic pie by curtailing activities that do more harm than good. And because some of the resulting revenue could help low-income families, these taxes, too, needn’t be painful.
In the same 2012 op-ed, Frank ingeniously parried the concern over raising taxes, even through externality pricing, at a time of economic stagnation:
Approving [externality taxes] now and scheduling them for phase-in only after the economy rebounds would serve two objectives. First, anxious credit markets would be reassured about the nation’s capacity to pay down government debt. And second, the delayed new taxes would speed the recovery by encouraging immediate increases in private spending.
With a carbon tax on the horizon, businesses would rush to develop technologies for adapting to higher energy prices. And consumers would accelerate major purchases to escape the looming consumption tax. The economy would get just the infusion of spending it needs — without the government’s having to spend a penny.
More recently, in August 2020, Frank took dead aim at “the fear that emissions would fall too slowly in response to a carbon tax” in another Times Sunday business column, Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax:
[C]ritics are correct that a carbon tax alone won’t parry the climate threat. It is also true that as creatures of habit, humans tend to change their behavior only slowly, even in the face of significant financial incentives. But even small changes in behavior are greatly amplified by behavioral contagion — the social scientist’s term for how ideas and behaviors spread from person to person like infectious diseases. And if a carbon tax were to shift the behavior of some individuals now, those changes would quickly spread more widely.
Frank invoked social science data on cigarette smoking (and avoidance), homeowners’ installation of solar-photovoltaic panels, and, in this passage, meat eating (and avoidance), to argue that taxes on carbon emissions will reverberate more powerfully than is generally assumed:
Behavioral contagion also has been shown to influence dietary choices. People often eat meat because they grew up with, and continue to live among, people for whom substantial meat consumption is the norm. Because meat has a large carbon footprint, a carbon tax would make it more expensive relative to plant-based foods.
The direct effect of this price change would be small. But as some people shifted the composition of their diets, others would find it easier to shift as well. In short order, these positive-feedback effects would produce more widespread shifts in eating habits. Behavioral contagion would similarly amplify initial responses to a carbon tax in virtually every other energy-intensive activity. (emphases added)
Behavioral contagion is the primary subject of Frank’s latest (2020) book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work. From the publisher’s blurb:
Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. It reveals how our environments encourage smoking, bullying, tax cheating, sexual predation, problem drinking, and wasteful energy use. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet—mainly because that’s what friends and neighbors do.
Frank describes how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. In the face of stakes that could not be higher, the book explains how we could redirect trillions of dollars annually in support of carbon-free energy sources, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone.
Other economists, listed alphabetically
Alan Blinder, Federal Reserve vice-chairman 1994-1996 and Princeton Professor of Economics and Public Affairs. In “The Carbon Tax Miracle Cure,” Blinder suggested on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 31, 2011):
[A] carbon tax… should be enacted now [but] set at zero for 2011 and 2012. After that, it would ramp up gradually… What’s critical is that we lock in higher future costs of carbon today.
Once America’s entrepreneurs and corporate executives see lucrative opportunities from carbon-saving devices and technologies, they will start investing right away—and in ways that make the most economic sense… I can hardly wait to witness the outpouring of ideas it would unleash. The next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are waiting in the wings to make themselves rich by helping the environment. Jobs follow investment, and we need jobs now.
Blinder recommends using carbon tax revenue to reduce the deficit and underscores the advantages of a carbon tax over other deficit reduction strategies:
[E]very realistic observer knows that closing our humongous federal budget deficit will require a mix of higher taxes and lower spending as shares of GDP. Forget about value-added taxes and other new levies you may have heard about. A CO2 tax trumps them all… reducing our trade deficit, making our economy more efficient, ameliorating global warming, and showing the world that American capitalism has not lost its edge.
Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University. Cowen also directs the Mercatus Center, “which studies how societies become and stay prosperous, and is coauthor of the blog Marginal Revolution.”
Phase out all forms of capital income taxation, including the corporate income tax, and replace them with a carbon tax, including a gasoline tax. “Savings and investment boost economic growth, but when it comes to energy, global warming threatens as a major problem and our dependence on Middle Eastern oil damages our foreign policy. (Cowen’s “Economic Idea #4 that voters need to hear”; from Economic Ideas for Republicans, U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 18, 2006; however, that link was inactive as of August 2014.)
Herman E. Daly, professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, foremost U.S. ecological economist, author of Ecological Economics, Steady-State Economics, Valuing The Earth, among other works:
Is it hard to come up with a reasonable [climate] policy? Not really — a stiff severance tax on carbon, levied at the well head, mine mouth, or port of entry, would go a long way by both reducing carbon use and giving an incentive for developing alternative carbon-free technologies. Yes, but how do we know what is the optimal tax rate, and wouldn’t it be regressive, etc.? … [T]ax the resource throughput (that to which value is added) and stop taxing value added. Tax bads (depletion and pollution), not goods (income). Does anyone imagine that we tax income at the optimal rate? Better first to tax the right thing and later worry about the “optimal” rate of taxation, compensation for regressivity, etc. People don’t like to see the value added by their own efforts taxed away, even though we accept it as necessary up to a point. But most people don’t mind seeing resource rents, value that no one added, taxed away. And the most important public good served by the carbon tax would be climate stability, brought about by the consequent reduction in use of carbon fuels and the incentive to invent less carbon-intensive energy sources. And much of the revenue from the carbon severance tax could be rebated to the public by abolishing other taxes, especially regressive ones. Climate Change: From ‘Know How’ to ‘Do Now’, Grist, Aug. 14, 2007.
Gilbert Metcalf, Tufts University economist, was appointed in March 2011 by President Obama to head the energy office at the Treasury Department. Metcalf is a prominent and effective advocate of revenue-neutral carbon taxes. In August of 2007, the World Resources Institute and the Brookings Institution jointly published a policy brief by Prof. Metcalf, outlining a national carbon tax paired with a partial refund of the payroll tax. The brief assesses the expected emissions reductions from a tax starting at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide whose revenue would be used to rebate the federal payroll tax on the first $3,660 of earnings per worker. This tax swap is both revenue-neutral and distributionally neutral. (Video of Prof. Metcalf’s 2008 presentation.)
With Prof. David Weisbach (Univ. of Chicago Law School), Prof. Metcalf authored “The Design of a Carbon Tax” (Harvard Environmental Law Review, 2009) addressing carbon tax design issues: the tax rate (including distributional issues, the use of the revenues, and tax rate changes), the tax base, and international trade concerns.
Paul Portney, Dean, Eller College of Management, Univ. of Arizona (and president, Resources for the Future, 1995-2005):
[W]e’re nuts not to have instituted gradually increasing controls on CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The worst-case scenario, especially for future generations, is too scary not to be taking some preventative measures now. A carbon tax is obviously the best way to deal with this problem. It would raise revenues the government will badly need to pay for Social Security and Medicare as old fogies like me begin to retire, as well as create incentives for energy conservation, emissions reductions, and clean technology innovation. (What Are the Biggest Environmental Challenges Facing the United States?, RFF Weekly Policy Commentary, Sept. 10, 2007)
Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, former Secretary of Labor and co-founder of The American Prospect :
What’s needed is a carbon tax — a tax on all fossil-based fuels that reflects their true social, political, and environmental costs. That should remain the goal, but as a practical matter it’s not going to happen any time soon. Republicans won’t enact a tax hike for any purpose. And right now congressional Democrats don’t have the intestinal fortitude, or the votes, to enact it on their own. (American Prospect Online Edition, Inherit the Windfall Feb. 7, 2007)
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University:
The changeover to a sustainable energy system will take decades and will require carbon taxes and emission permits to create market-based incentives for companies and individuals to switch to new kinds of electrical power plants, new kinds of automobiles and ‘green buildings.’ (Miami Herald, We Must Reverse Global Warming, Feb. 23, 2007)
The world’s producers and consumers currently regard the air as a free dumping ground for carbon dioxide and other climate-changing greenhouse gases. We need to correct market forces—for example, by taxing carbon emissions that are offset by tax reductions elsewhere—in order to create the right incentives. (Time Magazine, March 24, 2008; direct link unavailable, but full text was published later that year in Petroleum World).
[T]here is a much better strategy than tradable [emission] permits. Each region of the world should introduce a tax on CO2 emissions that starts low today and increases gradually and predictably in the future. Part of the tax revenue should be channeled into subsidies for new low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar, and to cover the costs of developing CCS (Carbon Capture & Sequestration). These subsidies could start fairly high and decline gradually over time, as the tax on CO2 emissions rises and the costs of new energy technologies fall with more experience and innovation. With a long-term and predictable carbon tax and subsidy system, the world would move systematically toward low-carbon energy, greater energy efficiency, and CCS. (Economy Watch, Towards A Global Carbon Tax – A Better Way To Fight Climate Change?, March 4, 2013).
Robert J. Shapiro, former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs
Mr. Shapiro, Commerce Undersecretary in the Clinton Administration, authored the American Consumer Institute’s Feb. 2007 report, Addressing the Risks of Climate Change: The Environmental Effectiveness and Economic Efficiency of Emissions Caps and Tradable Permits, Compared to Carbon Taxes. From the Executive Summary:
Carbon taxes would be a better response to the risks of global warming than emissions caps and tradable permits (commonly referred to as cap-and-trade)… [Carbon taxes] are much less vulnerable to evasion and market manipulation, providing a more stable and transparent system for consumers and industry alike. [Carbon taxes] do not create the price volatility and administrative problems associated with cap and trade.
In a June 2008 follow-on study, Addressing Climate Change Without Impairing the U.S. Economy: The Economics and Environmental Science of Combining a Carbon-Based Tax and Tax Relief, Shapiro calls for a federal carbon tax starting at $14 per metric ton of CO2 in 2010 and rising steadily to $50 in 2030 (equivalent to $82 with inflation). Shapiro concludes that the nearly revenue-neutral carbon tax would reduce CO2 emissions by 30% below non-taxed levels while shaving only eight-tenths of one percent off future (2030) GDP. The report was published by the U.S. Climate Task Force, a project of Shapiro’s Sonecon economic advisory company.
Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and University Professor at Columbia University; formerly Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank:
Not paying the cost of damage to the environment is a subsidy, just as not paying the full costs of workers would be… American firms are being subsidized—and massively so. There is a simple remedy: other countries should prohibit the importation of American goods produced using energy intensive technologies, or, at the very least, impose a high tax on them, to offset the subsidy that those goods currently are receiving. (A New Agenda for Global Warming, Economists’ Voice, July 2006)
Economic efficiency requires that those who generate emissions pay the cost, and the simplest way of forcing them to do so is through a carbon tax. There could be an international agreement that every country would impose a carbon tax at an agreed rate (reflecting the global social cost). Indeed, it makes far more sense to tax bad things, like pollution, than to tax good things like work and savings. Such a tax would increase global efficiency. Of course, polluting industries like the cap-and-trade system. While it provides them an incentive not to pollute, emission allowances offset much of what they would have to pay under a tax system. Some firms can even make money off the deal. Moreover, Europe has grown used to the concept of cap-and-trade, and many are loathe to try an alternative. Yet, no one has proposed an acceptable set of principles for assigning emission rights. (Showdown in Bali, Project Syndicate, Dec. 2007)
More recently, Stiglitz has decried the stalled UN climate negotiations as a “charade.” Stigliz feels that the 2 decade-long attempt to allocate responsibility for reducing emissions among nations is doomed; he instead urges negotiators to shift to a price-based negotiation to set a global carbon tax:
Stiglitz’s plan is to set a single, global price for carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. The idea is to make it so expensive to use carbon that consumers and businesses voluntarily use less of it. Countries could raise the price of carbon either with a tax or with a domestic cap-and-trade system, Stiglitz says. In his vision, if a country didn’t set its carbon price high enough, hoping to gain a pricing advantage, other countries would be allowed to charge tariffs on its exports. He would throw in a green fund to compensate hard-hit poor countries. (Stiglitz Calls Climate Talks a ‘Charade,’ Pushes Plan C, Bloomberg, 7/10/15)
Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot university professor (and former president), Harvard University (and Former Treasury Secretary):
[T]he U.S. must engage in an energy efficiency program that takes effect without delay and has meaningful bite. As long as developing countries can point to the U.S. as a free rider there will not be serious dialogue about what they are willing to do. I prefer carbon and/or gasoline tax measures to permit systems or heavy regulatory approaches because the latter are more likely to be economically inefficient and to be regressive.” (Financial Times, Practical Steps to Climate Control, May 28, 2007)
Paul Volcker, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, 1979-1987: See discussion on our “Public Officials” page.
Janet Yellen, co-chair, G30 Working Group on Climate Change and Finance; chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, 2014-2018, vice-chair, 2010-2014:
Carbon pricing is key. All firms across our economy need to pay the price of polluting the planet. It will certainly affect the economics of fracking and coal — the idea is to drive that stuff out of business over time. Maybe it doesn’t sound pleasant to say, but that’s what has to happen. (The 39 Things Biden Should Do First on Climate Change, Bloomberg Green, Nov. 11, 2020)
Gary Yohe, IPCC “Fourth Assessment” chapter editor and Professor of Economics at Wesleyan University. Prof. Yohe presented on the economic rationale for carbon pricing at the Wesleyan “Pricing Carbon” Conference in Nov. 2010, and was profiled on this point in Yale 360 in Dec. 2008.