In economics, an imposed cost or benefit / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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In economics, an externality or external cost is an indirect cost or benefit to an uninvolved third party that arises as an effect of another party's (or parties') activity. Externalities can be considered as unpriced goods involved in either consumer or producer market transactions. Air pollution from motor vehicles is one example. The cost of air pollution to society is not paid by either the producers or users of motorized transport to the rest of society. Water pollution from mills and factories is another example. All consumers are all made worse off by pollution but are not compensated by the market for this damage. A positive externality is when an individual's consumption in a market increases the well-being of others, but the individual does not charge the third party for the benefit. The third party is essentially getting a free product. An example of this might be the apartment above a bakery receiving the benefit of enjoyment from smelling fresh pastries every morning. The people who live in the apartment do not compensate the bakery for this benefit.
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The concept of externality was first developed by economist Arthur Pigou in the 1920s. The prototypical example of a negative externality is environmental pollution. Pigou argued that a tax, equal to the marginal damage or marginal external cost, (later called a "Pigouvian tax") on negative externalities could be used to reduce their incidence to an efficient level. Subsequent thinkers have debated whether it is preferable to tax or to regulate negative externalities, the optimally efficient level of the Pigouvian taxation, and what factors cause or exacerbate negative externalities, such as providing investors in corporations with limited liability for harms committed by the corporation.
Externalities often occur when the production or consumption of a product or service's private price equilibrium cannot reflect the true costs or benefits of that product or service for society as a whole. This causes the externality competitive equilibrium to not adhere to the condition of Pareto optimality. Thus, since resources can be better allocated, externalities are an example of market failure.
Externalities can be either positive or negative. Governments and institutions often take actions to internalize externalities, thus market-priced transactions can incorporate all the benefits and costs associated with transactions between economic agents. The most common way this is done is by imposing taxes on the producers of this externality. This is usually done similar to a quote where there is no tax imposed and then once the externality reaches a certain point there is a very high tax imposed. However, since regulators do not always have all the information on the externality it can be difficult to impose the right tax. Once the externality is internalized through imposing a tax the competitive equilibrium is now Pareto optimal.
For example, manufacturing activities that cause air pollution impose health and clean-up costs on the whole society, whereas the neighbors of individuals who choose to fire-proof their homes may benefit from a reduced risk of a fire spreading to their own houses. If external costs exist, such as pollution, the producer may choose to produce more of the product than would be produced if the producer were required to pay all associated environmental costs. Because responsibility or consequence for self-directed action lies partly outside the self, an element of externalization is involved. If there are external benefits, such as in public safety, less of the good may be produced than would be the case if the producer were to receive payment for the external benefits to others.