Sunday, February 26, 2012

Market forces to combat climate change

David Frum argues that the best way for the (US) government to reduce oil dependence is to 'do nothing'. By 'do nothing' he seems to mean tax dirty energy and reduce income taxes by an equivalent amount*. If consumers really value polluting, they will spend all of their reduced taxation on that, if not, they can maybe use their extra cash to buy a bike and cut down on petrol. Given that 40% of trips in the US are under 2 miles and 90% of these are done by car, this seems possible even with current sprawling suburbs. Although there are issues, some independent-minded folk from Raleigh, North Carolina have been trying to figure out how to make Americans walk more (a short, fun video). I think that higher taxes on fuel are a practical and moral obligation.

Unfortunately, maybe your kid will learn that climate change is a big hoax in school. And Newt Gingrich seems to think that a free-market supporting American government should intervene to guarantee cheap petrol (HT:JK). The flip side is that taxes would have to rise to pay for the increased subsidies and there will be more floods, droughts, forest fires across America as a result of the increased pollution. It doesn't seem like such a fantastic deal.


* In the sense that this means no net change in the burden on the taxpayer, this is 'doing nothing'. But I think he undersells himself in that changing behavioural incentives to minimise negative externalities is a difficult and important part of governing a country.