Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Law of Demand

According to a recent University of Michigan transportation study, the average carbon emissions per vehicle decreased 3 percent from October 2007 to April 2009. How did we achieve this emissions reductions? Cap and trade? Command and control regulations? No, the reduction instead occurred as consumers responded rationally to higher gas prices.

As a result of higher gas prices last year, consumers bought vehicles with better fuel efficiency and drover fewer miles. Thus, on average, each driver emitted less carbon. This is exactly how a carbon tax would work. The government levies a Pigovian tax roughly equal to the social costs of pollution and lets the market take care of the rest. As gas prices rise, people drive less and choose fuel efficient cars.

Unfortunately, the current administration seems to think that byzantine fuel economy standards will do the trick. But such standards are much more amenable to rent-seeking behavior. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the announced standards are favorable to light trucks, which benefits American producers but hurts the environment.

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