Green Light and Red Light Taxes

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Green Light taxes encourage certain types of behaviour, Red Light taxes discourage.


"There are at least two kinds of green taxes. One kind says No! Don't! Stop! I shall call them "Red Light Taxes." (They are also called Pigovian taxes, effluent charges, etc.) Another kind says Yes! Do! Go! I shall call them "Green Light Taxes." It is fair to say that most people today who think of themselves as "green-taxers" think mainly in terms of Red Light Taxes, a Decalogue of Thou Shalt Not's, to constrain people from doing ill.

That is a goal I fully support. Taken by itself, however, it is unbalanced and incomplete. It seems to make light of people's need to produce and consume goods, to earn a living, and find shelter. This limits its allure, and makes green-taxers vulnerable to critics tarring us as arrogant "elitists" and heartless misanthropes in white lab coats. MY THESIS IS THAT "GREEN LIGHT TAXES" DESERVE A PROMINENT PLACE in our programme. It is not enough to stop the waste of using what should not be used. The counterpart is using what should be used; not to do so is also waste, in some ways the worst kind." (