MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

For Climate Interventionists, New Taxes are Only the Beginning | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. Fox on December 6, 2018

Say what you will about the climate policy discussions at Vox, but they don’t mince words. They come right out and tell you how much they want to micromanage every last detail of your life. 

https://mises.org/power-market/climate-interventionists-new-taxes-are-only-beginning

Robert P. Murphy

Among other results, this peek into the interventionist mentality should serve as a wake-up call for the few writers who keep charmingly calling on libertarians and conservatives to strike a carbon tax deal with progressive leftists. As the Roberts/Harvey discussion says quite plainly, a carbon tax is just one arrow in the quiver of those championing aggressive government intervention to slow climate change.

A Carbon Tax Is Not Enough

Let me validate the carbon tax claim first. Here’s the key exchange from the Vox interview:

David Roberts: These days, people across the political spectrum are talking about carbon pricing. How does it fit into the larger effort?

Hal Harvey: The thing about carbon pricing is, it’s helpful, but it’s not dispositive. There are a number of sectors that are impervious to a carbon price, or close to impervious.

A carbon price works when it’s part of a package that includes R&D and performance standards. It does not work in isolation. It helps, but it doesn’t do nearly as much as is required.

Harvey elsewhere in the interview explicitly criticizes the standard “market solution” rhetoric behind a carbon tax when he says:

[Government-mandated performance standards] have a bad rep from an age-old and completely upside-down debate about “command-and-control” policy. But we use performance standards all the time, and they work really well. Our buildings don’t burn down very much; they used to burn down all the time. Our meat’s not poisoned; it used to be poisoned, or you couldn’t tell. And so forth. If you just tell somebody, this is the minimum performance required, guess what? Engineers are really good at meeting it cost-effectively.

In addition to their (naïve) promises of revenue neutrality, those pushing for a carbon tax swap deal also promise conservatives and libertarians that a “price on carbon” would allow for the dismantling of the existing top-down regulations. Yet we now have several lines of evidence to show just how naïve this hope is: (1) Harvey in the quotation above throws them under the bus. (2) The recent Curbelo carbon tax bill contained no *meaningful* regulatory relief. (3) Economist Paul Krugman is fine with outright bans on new (and existing?) coal-fired power plants, and (4) the people at Vox have said for yearsthat a carbon tax would only work in conjunction with other anti-emission government policies. Notice that I am not scouring obscure subreddit threads to find Marxists posting from a hipster café, I am quoting from quite mainstream sources who are openly declaring that putting “a price on carbon” will not do enough to reduce emissions.

The Interventionist Mentality

The reader should also realize that Roberts and Harvey don’t merely consider fuel economy standards and building efficiency codes when it comes to “command and control” regulations. Everything is on the table, and the only reason to refrain from pursuing certain strategies is the dilution of political capital. The following excerpt illustrates:

David Roberts: The book also has nothing about behavior change — no turning off lights or going vegetarian. Do you find that lever unrealistic?

Hal Harvey: It’s a policy design book, and there aren’t many policies that have people change their diet. Michael Bloomberg taxed sugar, so there’s one. But we’re not gonna have the tons-of-barbecue-per-capita tax in North Carolina…

We have limited political bandwidth. If you’re serious about change, you have to identify the decision makers that can innovate the most tons the fastest….There are 7.5 billion decision makers on diet. There are 250 utility commissioners in America — and utility commissioners control half the carbon in America.

Trying to invoke behavior change on something as personal as eating en masse is morally sound, it’s ecologically a good idea, but as a carbon strategy, it doesn’t scratch the surface.

Indeed, even when they give a nod to basic human rights, Roberts and Harvey sound creepy. Consider this exchange:

David Roberts: Paul Hawken’s Drawdown Project looked at options for reducing greenhouse gases and found that educating girls and family planning were the two most potent.

Hal Harvey: When I was at the Hewlett Foundation, we sponsored a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research that asked the question: Globally, if you met unmet need for contraceptives — that is to say, no coercion whatsoever — what would it cost and what would the carbon impact be?

We found large-scale abatement at less than a dollar a ton. So I’m completely in favor of that. [Bold added.]

It’s the part in bold that is chilling…

Be seeing you

 

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