Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Energy efficiency promotion backfires under cap-and-trade

Major climate-cum-energy policies and respective impact projections rest on the widespread belief that increased energy efficiency can be equated with savings in energy use and emissions. This belief is flawed. Due to the rebound effect emissions savings from energy efficiency improvements will be generally less than what is technically feasible, or even be reversed. By means of an analytical general equilibrium model we demonstrate the latter to be true in a case that is both stark and relevant: if electricity generation is subject to a cap-and-trade scheme with partial coverage, increased efficiency of electric devices leads unambiguously to increased carbon emissions. The result implies that a proper distinction between the energy rebound and the carbon rebound is warranted, and that public policy must carefully consider the interactions between energy efficiency promotion and carbon pricing.

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Trust, but verify? Monitoring, inspection costs, and opportunism under limited observability

Is feedback on trustworthiness necessary for the functioning of economic relationships? In many real-world economic environments, such feedback can at best be acquired through costly monitoring, raising questions of how trust and efficiency can be maintained. In the lab, we conduct a modified finite-horizon binary trust game in which we vary the observability of the trustee's actions. In the baseline condition, trustors can perfectly observe their trustee's actions. We compare this to a condition in which that actions are unobservable and three conditions in which they must be actively monitored, at zero, low or high cost, respectively. Counter-intuitively, differences in observability do not lead to significant differences in trust and efficiency, but the levels are supported by very different information structures: while trustors monitored every action under zero observation costs, most of trusting actions were "blind" – trustors did not learn whether their trust was honored or not – under costly monitoring. Even under complete unobservability almost half of the available surplus was realized. There are distributive impacts, however: the gains from trust favor trustees under the more adverse informational conditions. The behavioral patterns are consistent with the fact that trustors' beliefs about their trustee's conduct are almost invariant across conditions.

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Do renewable energy policies reduce carbon emissions? On caps and inter-industry leakage

In a parsimonious two-sector general equilibrium model, we challenge the widely-held tenet that within a cap-and-trade system renewable energy policies have no effect on carbon emissions. If the cap does not capture all sectors, we demonstrate that variations of a renewable energy subsidy change aggregate carbon emissions through an inter-industry leakage effect. We decompose this effect into intuitively intelligible components that depend in natural ways on measurable elasticity parameters. Raising the subsidy always reduces emissions if funded by a lump-sum tax, reinforcing recent findings that tightening environmental regulation can cause negative leakage. However, if the subsidy is funded by a levy on electricity, it can increase emissions. These results provide a valuable basis for an informed design of renewable energy policies and an accurate assessment of their effectiveness. We highlight how a state-of-the-art statistic used by governments to gauge such effectiveness, "virtual emission reductions", is biased, because inter-industrial leakage effects are not captured.

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Second and third party punishment under costly monitoring

In a laboratory experiment we study how costly punishment behavior of second and third parties in a social dilemma situation is affected by monitoring costs. Subjects have to pay a fee over and above punishment costs if they wish to condition punishments on previous play, which is equivalent to a binary choice between the acquisition of perfect information on the target subject's behavior and no information at all. When monitoring is costly both second and third party punishment is weaker and less discriminate and hence generates weaker incentives for cooperation than when monitoring is free. There are subtle differences between second and third parties: The presence of monitoring costs leads subjects to withhold sanctioning more often as second parties than as third parties, and to punish indiscriminately more often as third parties than as second parties. The results contribute to the understanding of peer-enforcement of cooperation in social dilemmas and whether there is a common motivational structure underpinning second and third party punishment.

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The warnings puzzle: an upstream explanation

Enforcement agencies issuing warnings are an empirical regularity in the enforcement of laws and regulations, but a challenge to the standard economic theory of public enforcement. A number of recent contributions explain the popularity of warnings as a response to information asymmetries between regulator and regulatee. We offer a distinct, but complementary explanation: Warnings can serve as a signaling device in the interaction between the enforcement agency and its budget-setting authority. By using costly warnings for minor offenses that would otherwise not be pursued, the agency can generate observable activity to escape budget cuts in subsequent periods. We show in a stylized model that warnings may indeed occur in an equilibrium of a game in which warnings are entirely unproductive in the agency-regulatee interaction, and thereby derive a testable hypothesis on regulatory agency behavior.

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