France Taxes “Bad” Cars, Subsidizes “Good” Cars

December 14, 2007

Yesterday, the French government announced that it would actively engage in Pigouvian taxation/subsidization in order to promote a better environment. From The Times Online:

France set itself on collision course with Brussels yesterday as it announced green taxes on gas-guzzling cars and a state-funded discount for vehicles that emit small quantities of carbon dioxide.

Under the scheme, which may fall foul of European Union competition law, a tax of up to €2,600 ($3,822) will be slapped on 4x4s and high-powered sports cars, from next month. Purchasers of small cars will receive a government payment of up to €1,000 ($1,470) under the plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in France.

“We are the first Western country to give a bonus to virtuous products,” Jean-Louis Borloo, the Ecology Minister, said.

I think many in America would disagree with Jean-Louis Borloo’s statement. For one, the National Assocation of Realtors has for years claimed the virtues of homeownership and thereby the justification for tax bonuses for owning a home. Nearly every presidential candidate and Midwest politician has argued that corn (and ethanol) produced in Iowa and elsewhere is virtuous and worthy of bonuses. The current tax code gives credits to people for going to college and for driving hybrid cars, as they were being implemented by people thinking that such activities were virtuous and worthy of subsidization. And then there is the biggest bonus for virtuous behavior in our tax code — the charitable deduction.

Our federal tax code give bonuses to old people, blind people, people with children, teachers, farmers, homeowners, first-time homebuyers in D.C., the environmentally-conscious, people who park at work, people who take public transit to work, charitable people, college students, parents with kids in college, people who move, workers with low incomes, and people with large medical expenses. And I’m sure I’m missing somebody.

At the state level, it’s often worse with exemptions and credits for various products. The entire justification for sales tax holidays is typically for government to give a break for parents to buy educational products, seen by most politicians as a virtuous policy. And then there is my all-time favorite — the Hawaiian Exceptional Tree Deduction, as blogged about here.


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