Working Paper

The Initial Incidence of a Carbon Tax across Income Groups

Aug 7, 2014 | Roberton C. Williams III, Hal Gordon, Dallas Burtraw, Jared Carbone, Richard D. Morgenstern


Although carbon taxes are regressive, how the revenue is used—to cut capital taxes, given as a lump sum rebate, or for a labor tax swap—impacts how much the poorest populations are affected.


Carbon taxes efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions but are criticized as regressive. This paper links dynamic overlapping-generation and microsimulation models of the United States to estimate the initial incidence. We find that while carbon taxes are regressive, the incidence depends much more on how carbon tax revenue is used. Recycling revenues to cut capital taxes is efficient but exacerbates regressivity. Lump-sum rebates are less efficient but much more progressive, benefiting the three lower income quintiles even when ignoring environmental benefits. A labor tax swap represents an intermediate option, more progressive than a capital tax swap and more efficient than a rebate.