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Carbon Tax?

It has been a pretty busy day at work. In between bouts of business I entertain myself with various baubles like mailing lists. Someone made a statement I found utterly hilarious, that in the context of current events:

“I think it would be politically possible to return to a gold standard.”

I responded that:

“I think a carbon tax would be more relevant to the concerns of the 21st Century.”

To which some else responded:

“Our currency and economy are broken, and the solution is to tax use of fossil fuels, biggest source of productivity the world has ever seen!”

And I though yeah . . . it is hard to advocate an idea like a new “tax” during a recession. Personally, I think calling it a “carbon ration” might be smarter: you get your allotment and if you make good lifestyle choices you can sell your excess at a profit. Anyway, I responded from the basis of an idea I heard at TED last week:

Over a century ago we swore up and down that without the cheap energy afforded by black slaves the national economy would collapse. So, instead of abolishing slavery we made compromise after compromise. Ultimately our nation was plunged into the catastrophe of civil war, and we abolished slavery for International PR reasons and in order to literally free up fresh soldiers for the war effort from among the newly-emancipated populations.

These days we swear up and down that without access to unlimited cheap energy, our economy would collapse and we would be unable to enjoy the “quality” of life we do now. And as each decade passes we find greater and greater evidence that we are living on borrowed time, and that we are multiplying the problem of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and that we are approaching various global tipping points which bring us closer to catastrophe.

In both cases, abolitionists and environmentalists are ridiculed and despised an know-it-all killjoys out to ruin everyone’s fun. Where the abolitionists had printing presses that would literally be burned down by their detractors, modern radicals warm themselves with flame wars on the Internet.

To go back to your glib response to a carbon tax, it is easier to make radical changes when it is clear that the status quo is broken. A big reason for the present crisis is that we were fueling growth on unsustainable credit models. Debt Debt Debt. Injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is a form of debt against the future, and if we go bankrupt with climate that’s really really not pretty. So, we have a good opportunity to look at how we structure the free market to take natural resources like the atmosphere into account, and price them appropriately so that we can realize economic benefit with the greatest efficiency.

Maybe one way to think of the idea of carbon rationing is that it is like Social Security for the environment: we each make a sacrifice now so as to secure against a future characterized by poverty. In this case the poverty would be a world wrecked by sudden catastrophic climate changes.

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Categories: Featured, Jokes, News and Reaction, Sundry, Testimonials, Travels

  • Sidney Cammeresi

    It’s not clear from your grammar whether the long excerpt is your own words or whether it is something you heard, but I object to the phrase ‘how we structure the free market.’ One can’t put ‘structure’ and ‘free’ in the same sentence like that. Even though there are elements of freedom, if the principle of individual sovereignty is rejected, if the conversation is reduced to debating what new set of controls should be imposed on the market, one can’t call it free any more. And the last sentence of the quotation states its author’s principle explicitly: efficiency is his goal, not freedom. Let’s be honest, and call the market what it is.

    Secondly, the author does not even state into what concept these two alleged similars should be united, much less provide any justification for doing so. How can we reason about the group without knowing what the group is and what its characteristics are? The result is garbage in, garbage out.

    I hold that there is a fundamental difference, not similarity, between the abolition of slavery and carbon rationing. The former was an increase in freedom; the latter would be a decrease.

  • Sidney,

    When the government abolished slavery it removed a right from citizens in the confederate states to own a certain type of property, while expropriating said property from these citizens without compensation. This is the sort of meddling in economic freedoms that modern Libertarians and conservatives would take exception to, were it not for a more modern sensibility that black people are in fact human beings and enslaving them is wrong.

    The understanding that we have to manage the resources of the planet wisely is a similar modern sensibility that we are still trying to figure out how best to embrace. Much like the abolition of slavery, a common reaction to this idea of moral obligation is that amending the economic system to account for the cost of natural resources would rob people of precious freedoms and destroy the economy.


  • Sean

    The government can intervene positively in markets. In fact, it can create markets where none existed.

    Free-market fundamentalism pretends that markets are pure goods unto themselves. In reality, markets are tools, made by humans to be used by humans for human ends.

  • Sidney Cammeresi

    Dear Messrs Howard and Sean,

    You’ve obviously guessed my opinion of carbon rationing, but I didn’t debate that issue in what I wrote. What I posted was about was something lower level, a meta-issue if you will, an issue of errors in cognition, and it’s not clear how your responses address that.

  • Blossom

    I heard that there are politicians who are trying to pass anti carbon laws regarding freedom to grow our own gardens and put health food stores out of business. The idea being that we would be solely dependent on whatever the government decides to allow and that there would be new laws governing taxes on animal owning and growing food fuels. Have you heard anything about this and do you have any idea where a person could go to learn more and possibly make my objections known?

  • Blossom,

    That sounds like some sort of insane right-wing fear-mongering to me. HUH!?