Pigovian Tax

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Definition of 'Pigovian Tax'

A Pigovian tax is a tax levied on a market activity that generates negative externalities. The goal of a Pigovian tax is to correct the market failure that results from the negative externality by internalizing the external cost.

Negative externalities are costs that are borne by third parties who are not directly involved in the market transaction. For example, the production of electricity generates air pollution, which can cause health problems for people who live near power plants. The cost of treating these health problems is a negative externality of electricity production.

A Pigovian tax is designed to make the producer of the negative externality pay for the cost of the externality. In the case of electricity production, a Pigovian tax would be levied on the amount of air pollution produced by power plants. The tax would raise the cost of producing electricity, which would encourage producers to use cleaner technologies or find ways to reduce their emissions.

Pigovian taxes are named after the economist Arthur Pigou, who first proposed the idea in his book "The Economics of Welfare" (1920). Pigou argued that taxes and subsidies could be used to correct market failures, such as negative externalities.

Pigovian taxes are a controversial policy tool. Some economists argue that they are a more efficient way to reduce negative externalities than regulations. Regulations can be costly to enforce, and they can stifle innovation. Pigovian taxes, on the other hand, can be more flexible and can encourage producers to find ways to reduce their emissions without the need for government intervention.

Other economists argue that Pigovian taxes are unfair. They say that it is unfair to tax producers for the costs of negative externalities that are not their fault. For example, a power plant may not be responsible for the health problems caused by air pollution, but it may be forced to pay a Pigovian tax to compensate for those problems.

The debate over Pigovian taxes is likely to continue for some time. However, there is growing evidence that Pigovian taxes can be an effective way to reduce negative externalities and improve social welfare.

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