A Carbon Tax on Everything -- Really, Robert?
Is there such a thing as "global warming pragmatism?" Robert J. Samuelson, who writes on economics for the Washington Post, thinks so -- and he's just flat wrong. Samuelson seeks to bridge differences over a polarized and contentious issue: "man-made" global warming. Problem is, Samuelson's bridge is plenty of girders, cables, concrete, and asphalt short of making it to the other shore.
Samuelson is much taken with the work of an MIT economist, Robert Pindyck. Pindyck, according to Samuelson is a difference-splitter. Can't say that global warming is overstated, but can't say it's understated. When in doubt, tax -- carbon tax everything -- though modestly, just in case.
In Samuelson's very own words:
Pindyck sounds like a "global warming denier." He isn't. True, he thinks climate change and its adverse economic consequences could be wildly overstated. He also thinks they could be wildly understated. The effects might ultimately be catastrophic. We simply don't know. Ignorance reigns.
This turns the axiom of "when in doubt, do nothing" on its head. Ignorance and uncertainty are really solid ground for tax policy, much less any other kind of major policy? Samuelson should well appreciate that ignorance and uncertainty could make for ruinous policy with a lot of unintended ill consequences.
Yet Samuelson bullies on with his Rube Goldberg-contraption-of-a-bridge:
I'd call Pindyck a global warming pragmatist, and it's a middle path that I find appealing. It [Pindyck's modeling] acknowledges warming's uncertainties but doesn't use them as an excuse for inaction. For years, I've advocated an energy tax -- my preference now is a carbon tax -- because it could advance other national goals. It could reduce budget deficits and enhance energy security by pushing consumers toward more efficient cars and trucks. That's my standard: Support policies that, though they might address climate change, can be justified on other grounds.
What serious scientist -- other than a global warming huckster -- would advocate advancing anything based on acknowledged significant uncertainties stemming from his modeling? (See Peter Ferrara's article at Forbes: "The Coming Revelation of The 'Global Warming' Fraud Resembles The Obamacare Lie" for more on the hucksters' flimflam.)
Does Samuelson spend much time on Capitol Hill? Many taxes start out as modest only to be goosed up over time. The implications of initiating a carbon tax are broader and deeper than Samuelson cares to address, and could pose quite a burden on the nation's already overregulated and multi-taxed economy.
And what watermelon truck did Samuelson fall off of when he wrote that a carbon tax could reduce budget deficits? Samuelson truly believes that Washington politicians over the long haul will dedicate new carbon tax revenues (if the tax doesn't diminish productivity, hence, revenues) to deficit reduction when that money can be spent on sexy projects and programs, i.e., buying votes? What's the track record in Washington concerning debt and deficits?
You want to cut deficits and, I presume, reduce national debt, Robert? Don't trust politicians to do so. You need a significant downsizing in government and new constitutional mandates for limiting government spending and borrowing. Discipline among politicians can't be expected as a rule; it must be imposed.
Hasn't Uncle Sam and the states been pushing the auto industry toward higher mileage standards and cleaner fuel burning engines for a long time now (at higher costs to businesses and consumers)? Over all, industry -- such as it is nowadays -- has also become cleaner. But let's pile on a carbon tax-everything? No adverse ramifications from doing so? A teeny-weenie, "Perhaps?"
And might it be fairly stated that an overseas oil cartel (OPEC) and politicians' successful efforts to hamstring domestic energy production to date have driven up energy prices, only to place further unwarranted costs on strapped consumers? A carbon tax-everything, with problematic results, at best, won't further weigh on consumers?
Does a "modest" carbon tax enhance the nation's security? No, because a stronger, more dynamic economy is needed and greater domestic energy production is key. A blanket carbon tax can retard both.
A nation of 300 million people and growing will have bigger needs regardless advances in energy-saving technologies (which are good things, though far too heavily emphasized by greens). Furthermore, technological advances that either result in energy savings or are the aim of new or improved technology are better realized if the marketplace is made freer, not more shackled by red tape, taxes, and the never-ending social engineering and favoritism indulged in by politicians.
Aren't we at the dawn of an energy revolution in North America (despite many government impediments)? Technological advances and new engineering are opening up abundant deposits of natural gas, shale oils, and tar sands from the Arctic Circle deep into Mexico. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal (though coal has gotten a bum rap). And natural gas is safer than nuclear energy (though nuclear's gotten a bum rap). Vehicles, among other machines, will be developed and produced to burn cleaner, more efficient natural gas. Not a win-win?
Samuelson attempts to slip his own faulty reasoning with the final line from the above quote: "That's my standard: Support policies that, though they might address climate change, can be justified on other grounds."
A tad blithe, Robert. Where's your cost-benefit analysis? How could you possibly arrive at one with so many imponderables, uncertainties (by your own admission), and doubts surrounding global warming (or climate change, or whatever the de jour tag is)? You wish to levy a carbon tax -- however "modest," though undetermined -- on virtually everything American society produces and consumes? Shamefully reckless.
The nation's problem for a hundred years or so is that we've had too many politicians justify their big government schemes by the suspect reasoning of too many Robert Samuelsons. Society isn't an experiment for statists; it's comprised of flesh and blood human beings going about their lives in very real, and often, difficult circumstances.
Like Pindyck's model and conclusions, Samuelson's call for a carbon tax-everything is a bridge -- if ever built -- that leads to a shore that Americans won't like very much... if they even manage to get there.