Jan 25 2008

If only EVERYONE took AP Economics…

Carbon tax bill in the mail – Canada.com

…then we’d be spared the naive statements that appear in our media and out of the mouths of our citizens when a basic economic principle plays itself out in the market place.

In Quebec, the provincial government levied a carbon tax on energy producers:

When the provincial government imposed the country’s first carbon tax last fall, it wanted producers to pay.

But just as oil refiners have already done, Gaz Métro started passing on the cost of the carbon tax (to consumers) this month.

Big surprise, right? Only in a market in which demand is perfectly elastic would the entire burden of a tax be born by producers, since raising prices at all would mean loosing all their customers. Clearly, electricity is not such a market, and given the inelasticity of demand for a necessity such as electric power, chances are a big chunk of the “0.67 cents per cubic metre of natural gas” tax placed on utilities is being passed onto consumers.

In market economies, tax incidence is shared between producers and consumers. This of course, is the way it should be. If the price stays low and output remains high, no externality has been corrected and just as much greenhouse gas will be emitted as before the tax. In order to decrease output to a more socially optimal level, the tax should be passed on to consumers, but also born by producers in the form of lower profits. Despite this economic reality, consumers still aren’t happy about it:

“I don’t care how much it is, even if it’s just half a penny,” said Leonard, a Laval resident who called to complain about his gas bill. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used.

“They said consumers would not pay for this – and now here we are, paying for it.”

Poor old Leonard… never got to take an economics class in school! If only everyone had taken AP Econ in high school, naivety like this could be avoided! Ask ol’ Leonard if he’s stopped using electricity due to the higher price, and I bet you can guess his answer. Why? Inelastic demand.

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

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