Voter Psychology and the Carbon Tax
Volume 90, No. 1, Fall 2017
By Gary M. Lucas, Jr. [PDF]

Economists across the political spectrum argue that a carbon tax is the most effective and economically efficient policy for addressing climate change. Voters, however, strongly oppose the carbon tax and instead favor “green” subsidies and command-and-control regulations. If carefully designed, these policies might complement a carbon tax, but by themselves, they will make global warming mitigation incredibly expensive and perhaps even infeasible. Moreover, if poorly designed, subsidies and regulations can be counterproductive.

This Article argues that the public dislikes the carbon tax because the tax possesses attributes that make it psychologically unappealing relative to other climate policy instruments. The Article also argues that even if carbon tax proponents eventually persuade voters to accept a carbon tax, voters are biased in favor of particular design features that would make the tax less efficient. The Article discusses ways to overcome the problems that voter psychology creates. These include a communications strategy designed to combat voter bias and the controversial proposition that bureaucrats, who are somewhat insulated from public pressure, might adopt a carbon tax administratively. The Article also contributes to the burgeoning literature on how psychology affects the law and public policy.