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Understanding Public Support for Externality-Correcting Taxes and Subsidies: A Lab Experiment

Keywords: Pigouvian taxes; subsidies; lab experiment; public policy; revenues; effectiveness

Author(s): David Heres, Steffen Kallbekken and Ibon Galarraga

Date: 2013-01-31

Issue: 2013-04

  Download this working paper (255 KB.)



The potential of taxation to correcting environmental externalities has been long recognized among economists. Yet, this welfare-enhancing policy commonly faces strong opposition by citizens. Conversely, externality-correcting subsidies frequently enjoy high levels of public acceptance. We conduct a lab experiment to explore public support for Pigouvian taxes and subsidies. In an experimental market with a negative externality, participants vote on the introduction of Pigouvian taxes and subsidies under full or partial information concerning how the tax revenues will be spent and the subsidy paid for. Theoretically the two instruments should produce identical outcomes. We find substantially greater support for subsidies than taxes. This can partially be explained by the expectation that the subsidy will increase payoffs more than a tax, but not because it could be more effective in changing behavior. Furthermore, we find that under partial information, the preference for subsidies is even stronger.

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