Econometrica: Jan 2014, Volume 82, Issue 1

Optimal Taxes on Fossil Fuel in General Equilibrium

DOI: 10.3982/ECTA10217
p. 41-88

Mikhail Golosov, John Hassler, Per Krusell, Aleh Tsyvinski

We analyze a dynamic stochastic general‐equilibrium (DSGE) model with an externality—through climate change—from using fossil energy. Our central result is a simple formula for the marginal externality damage of emissions (or, equivalently, for the optimal carbon tax). This formula, which holds under quite plausible assumptions, reveals that the damage is proportional to current GDP, with the proportion depending only on three factors: (i) discounting, (ii) the expected damage elasticity (how many percent of the output flow is lost from an extra unit of carbon in the atmosphere), and (iii) the structure of carbon depreciation in the atmosphere. Thus, the stochastic values of future output, consumption, and the atmospheric CO concentration, as well as the paths of technology (whether endogenous or exogenous) and population, and so on, all disappear from the formula. We find that the optimal tax should be a bit higher than the median, or most well‐known, estimates in the literature. We also formulate a parsimonious yet comprehensive and easily solved model allowing us to compute the optimal and market paths for the use of different sources of energy and the corresponding climate change. We find coal—rather than oil—to be the main threat to economic welfare, largely due to its abundance. We also find that the costs of inaction are particularly sensitive to the assumptions regarding the substitutability of different energy sources and technological progress.

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Supplement to "Optimal Taxes on Fossil Fuel in General Equilibrium"

This document covers numerically solved versions of the model and can be viewed as a robustness check on the main results.

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Supplement to "Optimal Taxes on Fossil Fuel in General Equilibrium"

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