Conservatives: Unpriced Carbon Pollution is Theft — Milton Friedman Would Tax It

Free dumping of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere is nothing less than “theft” from future generations who stand to suffer from unabated global warming, declared University of Chicago economist Steve Cicala at a symposium last week in honor of the conservative icon Milton Friedman. “It is theft,” said Cicala. “That’s a loaded term, but if someone else has a better term for taking something from someone without their consent and without compensating them, I’d be happy to hear it.”

E&E News reports that Cicala and former Obama White House adviser Michael Greenstone, who holds the Friedman chair at the U. of Chicago and directs its Energy Policy Institute, asserted that “if the late free-market economist Milton Friedman were alive today, he’d probably support pricing carbon.”

Free-Market Economist Milton Friedman
Free-Market Economist Milton Friedman

According to E&E, Cicala and Greenstone argued that,

Friedman… would have viewed climate change as a negative externality associated with burning fossil fuels and would have believed that society was entitled to recover its losses from those who emit carbon to advance their economic interests… While there is a market for the products that are associated with greenhouse gas emissions — like electricity, fuel and steel — there is no market for the pollution inflicted by their manufacturers on the public.

E&E reported that,

[t]he panel was moderated by former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), whose stance on climate change contributed to his 2010 loss in the Republican primary. He now heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. Inglis, who still describes himself as a conservative, argues that his colleagues on the right would be more receptive to the issue of climate change if there were a conservative policy model to address it. His initiative proposes a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would return all the revenue from a levy on emissions to the public in the form of other tax cuts.

Panelists at the Oct. 8 symposium, held at the university where Friedman taught for more than three decades, stressed the importance of U.S. leadership on climate policy. They also recommended that a carbon tax include border adjustments to create incentives for other nations to adopt their own carbon pricing systems and to protect domestic energy-intensive industry from unfair competition.

Inglis isn’t the only Republican recommending carbon taxes. According to E&E,

Four U.S. EPA administrators who served under Republican presidents, former Secretary of State for President Reagan George Shultz, and Treasury Secretary for President George W. Bush Henry Paulson have all expressed support for a revenue-neutral model.

In a June 21 New York Times op-ed, Paulson urged revenue-neutral carbon taxes to address what he described as an emerging “carbon bubble”of fossil fuel assets that, he argued, are over-valued because the dire consequences of burning them may lead to restrictions on their extraction and use.

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The Thin Reed Supporting the White House’s “Legacy” Climate Plan

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

I took Latin in high school, and I loved unraveling classic phrases like After this, therefore because of this ― a common logical fallacy that attributes event B to event A because A preceded B.

Okay, so that’s not quite what Politico and the New York Times did this week when they linked the sharp drop in power plant emissions in the Northeast U.S. from 2005 to 2012 (“B”) with the regional CO2 trading system known as RGGI (“A”). But they came pretty close:

Politico: Nine Northeastern states already take part in a regional trading network that puts an economic price on their power plants’ carbon output . . . The Northeastern states saw their power plants’ carbon emissions drop more than 40 percent from 2005 to 2012, the trading network told EPA in December — without any of cap-and-trade critics’ apocalyptic expectations for such a system.

The Times: The regional program [RGGI] has proved fairly effective: Between 2005-12, according to program officials, power-plant pollution in the northeastern states it covered dropped 40 percent. [Read more...]

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