Discussion Paper

Fiscal and Externality Rationales for Alcohol Taxes

Nov 22, 2006 | Ian W.H. Parry, Ramanan Laxminarayan, Sarah E. West


This paper develops and implements an analytical framework for estimating the optimal levels and welfare effects of alcohol taxes and drunk-driver penalties, accounting for externalities and how policies interact with the broader fiscal system. We find that the fiscal component of the optimal alcohol tax exceeds the externality-correcting component under many parameter scenarios and assumptions about revenue recycling; overall, the optimal tax is anything from three to more than ten times the current tax. For more incremental reforms, however, welfare gains from stiffer drunk-driver fines and non-pecuniary penalties are larger, even though they involve implementation costs, possible first-order deadweight losses, and fiscal considerations play a minor role. In contrast to current practice, fiscal considerations warrant relatively heavier taxation of beer and relatively lighter taxation of spirits.