Saturday, September 28, 2013

Political coalition possibilities, population edition

Chris Mooney, who interviewed David Frum and me a few years ago, has a thoughtful article in Grist: "Can we finally have a serious talk about population?" (Note to Chris: When you have a chance, update the Grist bio that says you are host of the Point of Inquiry podcast.) It includes some discussion of Alan Weisman's book Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? Long excerpt from the article:
Weisman is well aware of the controversy his book invites. In particular, political libertarians are very fond of refuting the concerns of population crusaders, from the Reverend Thomas Malthus to the ecologist and Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich, with the claim that human ingenuity has a history of proving them wrong. The key episode: the Green Revolution of the late 1960s, led by plant geneticist Norman Borlaug, in which dramatic new agricultural technologies and crop strains were credited with averting what might otherwise have been mass famines. 
But Weisman has his response ready (he chronicles Borlaug’s life and triumphs in the book). “Everybody says that Norman Borlaug, the great plant geneticist, he disproved Malthus and Ehrlich forever,” he explains. “It’s kind of cherry-picked, because the part that they neglect to add, Norman Borlaug’s Nobel acceptance speech, he didn’t sit there congratulating himself — as he was congratulated by others — for saving more lives than any other human in history. He said, ‘We have bought the world some time, but unless population control and increased food production go hand in hand, we are going to lose this.’” 
So what’s Weisman’s solution? Importantly, he is no supporter of coercive population control measures such as China’s infamous one-child policy. Rather, Weisman makes a powerful case that the best way to manage the global population is by empowering women, through both education and access to contraception — so that they can make more informed choices about family size and the kind of lives they want for themselves and their children. 
“The libertarians are going to like the solution that ultimately comes up,” Weisman says. “And that is, letting everybody decide how many children they want, which means giving every woman on Earth — and then every man, because male contraceptives are coming — giving them universal access to contraception, and letting them decide for themselves.”
Me: The above interests me greatly, partly because of its non-coercive solution but also because of the discussion of Borlaug, whom I'd long seen touted by libertarians without memorable reference to his population concerns. I checked Borlaug's 1970 Nobel speech, wondering whether Weisman's characterization was correct. It is. Excerpt from Borlaug:
Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the "Population Monster". In the beginning there were but two, Adam and Eve. When they appeared on this earth is still questionable. By the time of Christ, world population had probably reached 250 million. But between then and now, population has grown to 3.5 billion. Growth has been especially fast since the advent of modern medicine. If it continues to increase at the estimated present rate of two percent a year, the world population will reach 6.5 billion by the year 2000. Currently, with each second, or tick of the clock, about 2.2 additional people are added to the world population. The rhythm of increase will accelerate to 2.7, 3.3, and 4.0 for each tick of the clock by 1980, 1990, and 2000, respectively, unless man becomes more realistic and preoccupied about this impending doom. The ticktock of the clock will continually grow louder and more menacing each decade. Where will it all end?
Me: So, here is a political alignment that might have some resonance going forward: Libertarians who accept that fast-rising population is a problem; and environmentalists who advocate non-coercive ways of dealing with that problem. Some points of agreement: (1) Limit subsidies for child-rearing (and thus rankle some conservative natalists); (2) Oppose efforts to stamp out or severely curtail genetically modified foods (and thus set yourself against the left-wing anti-GMO campaigners).

If that political coalition takes hold, count me in.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alexander Hamilton was not what Noah Berlatsky says he was

This piece, "Alexander Hamilton Was an Authoritarian Jerk," by Noah Berlatsky, caught my eye, after it was tweeted by Russ Smith (formerly Mugger of New York Press). Excerpt from Berlatsky:
Back in high school, my AP History teacher presented American government as one long argument between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. On the one hand, federal centralization and unity; on the other, decentralization and liberty. Two great thinkers, founding our national discourse. 
What my history teacher didn't tell us was that Hamilton was a paranoid, war-mongering loon. In the late 1790s, when Britain and France were locked in war, the Federalist President John Adams was desperately trying to maintain neutrality and not drag the US into a massive conflict for which it was not prepared. But Hamilton was thrilled at the prospect of war. In part, this was because he hated the French Revolution, and its attack on central authority and monarchy. But it was also because he figured he could use the war to attack the pro-French Republicans led by Jefferson, a man who he later denounced as "an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics." Placed at the head of an army raised to repel a possible French invasion, Hamilton got it into his head that Virginia was arming against the central government, and almost marched on the state. Dissuaded from starting a Civil War, he turned instead to infringement of civil liberties. After some initial hesitation, he supported the notorious 1798 Alien and Sedition acts to limit immigration and punish dissent. Then, when Adams managed to secure peace with France, Hamilton was so upset that he wrote a 50 page diatribe denouncing Adams and concluding that the President had lost "the respect of friends and foes" alike. 
So, in sum, Hamilton was bitterly partisan, eager to engage in avoidable wars, and prone to using the machinery of government to stifle dissent and persecute his enemies, real and imagined. He sounds remarkably like Dick Cheney.
I mildly suggested on Twitter that this piece could benefit from some additional analysis.
And Smith kindly put me in touch with the author, Berlatsky, who tweeted back:
I then promised to provide some needed perspective. Before proceeding, I will note that some of my earlier writings on Hamilton are here, here and here. Now getting to the Berlatsky piece:

1.There's a curious selectivity in the references to Adams. Note that he gets credit for "desperately trying to maintain neutrality" but then, when the Alien and Sedition Acts come up, there's no mention that it was President Adams who signed them. It also would have been worth noting that Hamilton's opinion of those laws has long been a subject of historical debate, and that the facts of that matter are hard to ascertain because Adams made an effort--after Hamilton's death--to shift some responsibility for the laws from himself to Hamilton (whom he dubiously claimed to have pressed him to pass such laws).

2. Berlatsky suggests that Hamilton's hostility to the French Revolution was because of "its attack on central authority and monarchy." I would think that Hamilton, who fought against monarchy in the American Revolution and spelled out principles of a constitutional republic in the Federalist Papers, had an aversion to the French Revolution because it was a new form of authoritarianism that lopped off numerous people's heads (and led to a centralization of power similar to that of the previous monarchy).

3. Hamilton had a rather wide-ranging career, which Berlatsky's piece does not even remotely do a fair job of encapsulating. As I have spent a lot of time as a financial writer, I take a particular interest in Hamilton's crucial role in establishing the American financial system, but I will also note his important role as a lawyer in establishing freedom of the press.

4. The supposed relevance of Dick Cheney to Hamilton is never made substantial enough in Berlatsky's piece to merit a response.

Eisenhower links

Recommended reading: "Is Obama Like Ike?" by Michael Doran at Commentary. Some previous Eisenhower mentions at this blog here. And a classic from the Washington Post: discerning whether Rand Paul is like Ike. It speaks well of a politician that over half a century later people liken themselves to him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Meanwhile in New Jersey

Chris Christie remains a shoo-in in the gubernatorial race, while the Senate race between Cory Booker and Steve Lonegan evidently has tightened somewhat, though with Booker still with a double-digit lead in a race ending Oct. 16. That suggests there are quite a few New Jerseyans who intend to vote for both Christie and Booker. Christie surely will survive the defection of Meghan McCain. Booker, whose Twitter feed I've followed (and been followed by) since before it was cool, is an appealing personality and has the benefit of being considered a Wall Street stooge by Glenn Greenwald; whether his record and positions merit a Senate seat is another question. Lonegan, about whom I recall being unimpressed when I voted for his then opponent Christie in the 2009 GOP primary, hasn't gotten my attention much this year apart from some blather about preferring scotch to pedicures.* I'll watch some Booker-Lonegan debates in early October and hope to hear something that will put this contest in a new and clarifying light.

* - So do I, but it's a close call.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Completely agree

Daniel Larison on Ted Cruz: "Of course, being intelligent is no guarantee of good judgment, and when combined with a combative temperament it can make a person downright unbearable."

UPDATE 1:20 PM: Related: "Me & Ted." As for me, I would put up with some degree of obnoxiousness if I thought the positions and ideas were good. But no.

UPDATE 1:30 PM: I should add that a politician I've been writing about long-form was often characterized similarly, which is more palatable once some real things have been achieved.


Recommended reading: "Saying Goodbye," by Walter Russell Mead. Condolences to the Mead family on their loss.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Irresponsibility news

Here's an amazing--or sadly, perhaps not all that amazing--story as described at Overlawyered:
Over Labor Day weekend, hundreds of teenagers held an illegal party in the upstate New York home of former NFL star Brian Holloway. They left a wide swath of photos on social media, and Holloway put up a website identifying more than 100 of the 300 partiers. “But rather than apologize to Holloway for their children’s behavior, some parents have contacted their lawyers to see what legal action they can take” against him.
Me: Not only that but Holloway invited the kids, and their parents, to a picnic at his house, where they would join him in cleaning up the place as a way of setting a good example. How many showed up? One.

I spend a considerable amount of time in the Capital region, but hadn't noticed this story on the local news. I hope that any legal action going forward will involve Holloway rolling over these people.

Sometimes I remember my offbeat idea, from a totally different context, of a "Responsibility Movement" and think it was actually a pretty good one.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Problems the next president will have to sort out

A perceptive essay at The Economist: "The weakened West." Excerpt:
The West’s great problem is the paralysing legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan, exacerbated by a weak economy in Europe and, in America, vicious partisan politics. Everyone knew that Western citizens were tired of fighting, but until Mr Obama and Mr Cameron asked them, nobody knew just how tired. 
Now every tyrant knows that a red line set by the leader of the free world is really just a threat to ask legislators how they feel about enforcing it. Dictators will be freer to maim and murder their own people, proliferators like North Korea less scared to proceed with spreading WMD, China and Russia ever more content to test their muscles in the vacuum left by the West. 
The West is not on an inexorable slide towards irrelevance. Far from it. America’s economy is recovering, and its gas boom has undermined energy-fuelled autocracies. Dictatorships are getting harder to manage: from Beijing to Riyadh, people have been talking about freedom and the rule of law. It should be a good time to uphold Western values. But when the emerging world’s aspiring democrats seek to topple tyrants, they will remember what happened in Syria. And they won’t put their faith in the West.
Me: That hint of optimism at the end is appropriate, as is the surrounding pessimism. I suspect the malaise (carefully chosen word) we're now experiencing is going to help bring about a foreign policy president next time around, as I've mentioned. It might seem like libertarian non-interventionism is on the rise, but by 2016 the consequences of the current mishmash of interventionism and non-interventionism will likely make a compelling case for someone who knows what she or he is doing; and that won't be Rand Paul or Ted Cruz.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mastodon, dinosaurs upstate

The New York State Museum in Albany, visited this weekend, has a pretty impressive mastodon that was dug up in 1866 near the Cohoes Falls (pictured here). It's the skeleton of a juvenile, not fully grown. The Museum has an interesting collection, focused on state animals and history.

Also of note for paleontology enthusiasts in or passing through the Capital Region, the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenecteday has (until Sept. 29) various animatronic dinosaurs, including those in the graphic scene below.

Related posts:
Mastodon skull sale
Upstate dinosaur
Dinosaur popularity

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Some quick political notes

1. A lot of traffic (by this blog's standards) is going into my old post "Gingrich Park Place Disgrace." Don't know if this reflects people actually reading that post, or some horde of robots or something. I sure haven't had the impression that particular controversy is going to make any kind of comeback.

2. I expressed skepticism the other day about Elizabeth Warren's presidential prospects, in line with my piece about her from last year. On the other hand, she does seem to have gotten Larry Summers' scalp just now. Still, like David Frum, I'd hesitate to sell any Hillary Clinton stock currently.

3. Kudos to Nick Gillespie for his article "Four Principles for a Libertarian National Security State." I'm sure a Gillespie national security policy would have differences from a Silber national security policy (and for some broader differences, see my FrumForum review of his and Matt Welch's book) but I don't see much to disagree with in this latest piece, including "target the bad guys."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Too Machiavellian by half

For wishful thinking and strained rationalization, it would be hard to beat this Andrew Sullivan post: "Vladimir Putin, Meet Niccolo Machiavelli." The idea is that Obama, far from being outsmarted by Putin, has brilliantly handed over responsibility for the mess to the Russian president. Excerpt:
But the upshot right now – so far as I can see – is that Russia and not America now owns this conflict. It is Putin who is on the hook now – and the more Putin brags about his diplomatic achievement the more entrenched his responsibility for its success will become. And that is perfectly in line with Russia’s core interests: Putin is much closer to Syria than we are; he must be scared shitless of Sunni Jihadists who now loathe him and Russia more than even the Great Satan getting control of WMDs. Those chemical weapons could show up in Dagestan or Chechnya or the Moscow subway. It is Putin – and not Obama – who is therefore much more firmly stuck between the Sunnis and the Shia in Syria – not to speak of the Christians.

Of course, this argument only makes sense if you don’t believe the US is best served by being responsible for the entire Middle East, and by being the only major power seriously invested there. If your goal is US global hegemony, this was a very bad week. But if your goal is to avoid the catastrophe that occurred in Iraq, to focus on the much more important foreign policy area, Asia, and to execute vital domestic goals such as immigration reform and entrenching universal healthcare … then the result looks pretty damn good. Or at least perfectly good enough.
Me: No.That argument doesn't make sense by any standard. First, the U.S. hasn't extracted itself from the Syria problem, but retains the difficult task of trying to influence Syria's decisions about chemical weapons, only now with less leverage than before the recent erratic responses. Second, the idea that Putin "owns" the Syria problem--as in, he would be upset if chemical weapons are used again--is naive. (The Munich analogy the administration was touting may be instructive after all: "Hitler now owns that Czechoslovakia problem.") No. What Putin wants is for his client state to survive and have a free hand to use chemical weapons in the future while pretending it will get rid of them; Putin also wants, more importantly, to humiliate the United States and make U.S. allies everywhere doubt the solidity of U.S. commitments. Let's just say he had a good week.

And what, for that matter, would Machiavelli have said about the administration's performance? Maybe something like this: “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recommended: Fermat's Room

"Fermat's Room" or "La habitaciĆ³n de Fermat," a 2007 film that I'd never heard of until I chose it on pay-per-view tonight, is my kind of movie. Trailer:

When I saw it was about mathematicians trapped in a shrinking room, I thought it would be good even if it was bad, but it happens not to need that conditional.

Left turn maybe

Recommended reading: "The Rise of the New New Left," by Peter Beinart. Opening:
Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.
The article goes on at some length and is hard to summarize. I'm not really convinced by it, but I'm not so ready to dismiss its expectation of left-wing ferment either, and it's interesting in any case. To me, Occupy Wall Street's rapid disintegration was at least as significant as its rapid emergence; and an Elizabeth Warren nomination is an outlier of a possibility. I could be wrong.

Beinart's discussion of "political generations" (people's politics being strongly shaped by events as they were coming of age) strikes me as eminently plausible, and it doesn't necessarily contradict my sense that foreign policy is going to be a big factor next time around. I recall the first time I extended my daily newspaper routine beyond the comics and sports pages to look at the front of the New York Daily News. There was something there about this, and I got interested in the wider world pretty fast.

Condi Rice update

Kristen Soltis Anderson has a brief essay about Condoleezza Rice: "The Republican Party's Class Act." Excerpt:
I was seated in the upper level of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where lucky credentialed observers could watch convention proceedings live. Speaker after speaker strode to the podium and offered the usual convention fare. “Welcome to Barack Obama’s retirement party!” “Let’s vote him out!”
When Condoleezza Rice took the stage, delegates and observers burst into raucous applause. The crowd’s enthusiasm during her speech was mighty. The room thundered. I am not certain I breathed once during the 20 minutes she spoke.
Condoleezza Rice did not mention President Barack Obama once.
No one observing the speech could declare it timid. Yet, at the same time, there was not a single mention of “this administration” or “this president.” In fact, her only use of the word “president” came as she said:
“And on a personal note: A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the segregated city of the South where her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant. But they make her believe that — even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter — she can be president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.”
The room roared.
There is power in speaking well, and speaking differently than the rest. Condoleezza Rice embodies a unique style of grace and intellect, and that night in Tampa she proved that having vision is more powerful than being loud.
I, too, thought that speech was excellent, and mentioned it at the time as bolstering Rice's future presidential prospects. A little over a year later, those prospects seem to me brighter still, and that 2016 would be a plausible time for her to run.

After watching the Obama administration's performance over Syria recently, it seems to me increasingly likely that the next president will be a "foreign policy president," someone with a strong background on international issues. The last such president was George H.W. Bush, and he was given the gold watch by an electorate that was ready for a post-Cold War focus on domestic issues. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all were elected despite (perhaps to some degree even because of) a paucity of experience in foreign policy. During the relatively halcyon 1990s, Clinton's on-the-job training seemed to suffice. But the world has been unforgiving of inexperienced presidents during the 21st century, and the old requirement that a new president have some background and substance on that front going in could (and in any case, should) re-emerge.

Now, of course, criticism of G.W. Bush's foreign policy (including, implicitly, in the above paragraph) will also be an issue for Condi Rice, if she should choose to enter the electoral fray. But of course she was part of a team, and the failings of that team seem (to me, at least) to reflect considerably more on others than on her. Just as (in my opinion) the failings of the current team reflect more on others than on Hillary Clinton, who remains a likely Democratic nominee in 2016.

Dick Morris may not have been wrong, just premature, when he published this:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What the Obama administration convinced me of on Syria [updated more]

Regarding the Syria crisis/debacle, I'm in agreement with James Taranto's column here.
Last week, with some intellectual exertion, this columnist formulated an argument that approving the resolution was a less bad option than rejecting it. The administration's recklessly erratic presentation of its case in the ensuing days has made remaining convinced of that argument too exhausting for us.
Me: If I were in Congress, I don't see how I could vote for a use-of-force resolution after listening to the official case for one, notably including Kerry's threat of an "unbelievably small" attack if the chemical weapons are not handed over (a condition that is not feasible amid a civil war anyway)--a threat that, if I didn't know better, I'd think was calculated to draw derision and contempt; and an unidentified official's Cheerios-with-a-fork analogy, which combines irresolution with inanity (and probably inaccuracy, in that I doubt eating Cheerios with a fork would even be difficult). If Obama has a better case to make, it would be good to hear it tonight.

If I were in Congress, also, I'd be looking into the possibility of an authorization giving flexibility for a response in the event of another chemical weapons attack. And Obama should sign off on such a policy, recognizing that he doesn't have the public and congressional support for war now, but affirming that the United States is not going to stand around indefinitely while Syria repeatedly drops poison gas on children. Meanwhile, quietly step up whatever belated aid is going to the non-Al Qaeda rebels, and try to piece this disastrously broken fiasco of a foreign policy back together over time.

UPDATE 9:25 am: An interesting, and appealing, angle on not taking military action now--rather than "degrading" Assad's military, hold the dictator personally responsible: Mark Stout on the "speech that the president should give."

UPDATE 12:30 pm: "The Syria Solution: Obama Got Played by Putin and Assad."That seems true, in that a full and verifiable turnover of Syria's chemical arsenal is, to say the least, unlikely; it's not clear the Assad regime could accomplish such a thing amid that country's current chaos even if it wanted to. Still, I can't blame the Obama administration for doing what it can to back out of the corner it put itself in with such incredible, painful-to-watch, protracted incompetence. Also, Kerry has demonstrated to me quite clearly something that I was not so sure of circa 2006: that my vote for George W. Bush in 2004 was the right one. I'm also feeling pretty upbeat about voting for Romney in 2012.

UPDATE 9/11: I saw the speech. Certainly an improvement over the last few days, but that's a very low bar. An interesting question is how did U.S. policy get into such a mess in the first place? Was this an example of U.S. interventionism run amok? Partly, yes, with the ill-considered "red line" remark, but non-interventionism was crucial in setting the stage for this foreign-policy debacle. The reluctance to aid the rebels, and to bolster relatively moderate and democratic forces among them, led to Al Qaeda types gaining ground among the opposition, as well as encouraging the Assad regime to think it could act with impunity.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

College advice

Recommended reading: "Back to School," by Walter Russell Mead. Wide-ranging advice for college students. I could quibble with some points but I think the whole thing is of great value, including this counterintuitive item: "Choosing the right courses is more important than choosing the right college."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My anti-anti-carbon tax argument [corrected]

UPDATE 12 Noon ET: I made what is, for someone who's worked as a professional fact checker and copy editor, the rather terrible error of not looking at the byline of what I was criticizing. Pethokoukis had linked to the post, but it was written by Benjamin Zycher. Corrected below.

James Pethokoukis Benjamin Zycher has an anti-carbon tax response to Greg Mankiw’s recent pro-carbon tax column. I think Pethokoukis’ Zycher's argument is erroneous for several reasons.

Pethokoukis Zycher writes:
Economics first.  The US emits about 17 % of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).  If we apply the MAGICC climate model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and assume the IPCC mid-range emissions path for the 21st century, an immediate cut in US emissions by half would reduce global temperatures a century by now by 0.1 degrees.  As the standard deviation is 0.11 degrees, that reduction could not be measured reliably.
Me: Any analysis that limits the effects of a U.S. carbon tax to U.S. emissions is unreliable. A U.S. carbon tax could and should be applied to imports from non-carbon tax countries as well. It should aim, as the book The Carbon Crunch advocates, at applying to carbon production, not consumption. A U.S. carbon tax would also, besides pricing out some U.S. carbon emissions, tend to spur low- or no-carbon technological developments that also could be exported and applied internationally. Pethokoukis’s Zycher's focus only on the obvious, direct effects of a U.S. carbon tax is the kind of static analysis that supply-siders used to decry.

Pethokoukis Zycher writes:
Science next.  Assume that the IPCC-class climate models are correct, despite the reality that they can predict neither the past nor the present. Assume any set of predicted effects, however apocalyptic.  It remains the case that the proposed tax is inconsistent with the underlying climate science.  Why?  Because the effect of increasing GHG concentrations is logarithmic: The marginal impact of emissions declines as concentrations increase.  As the developing world consumes more fossil fuels—the inexorable human pursuit of higher living standards is universal—GHG concentrations will rise, which means that (changes in) US emissions will matter less and less, unless one assumes a large increase in the vulnerable capital stock without adaptation by markets. 
Me: The effect of increasing GHG concentrations is logarithmic, in that each doubling of emissions is expected to produce roughly the same temperature increase. This does not mean that going forward there is less and less reason to worry about greenhouse gases. Emissions may well rise fast enough to outpace the logarithmic effect and produce an accelerating warming (and delayed temperature effects of carbon already in the atmosphere may also be significant). But in any case, what we ultimately care about is the impact of the temperature increases. Does Pethokoukis Zycher feel confident that, say, the difference between a 3.5 degree warming and a 2 degree warming is insignificant (because we avoided a doubling of the first 2 degrees)?

Pethokoukis Zycher also asserts a carbon tax should decline over time (to reflect the alleged declining impact of warming), rather than rise as proponents often suggest. But note that a gradual ramp-up of a tax would reduce shocks to the economy and offer incentives to reduce carbon emissions (and develop new technologies) in advance of expected increases in the tax.

Pethokoukis Zycher writes:
Moreover, the tax would be inconsistent with the principles of efficient taxation under democratic institutions.  Taxes are prices for public services, and the pursuit of efficiency in public spending means that tax prices should reflect the valuations that individuals place on those services.  Proposals for carbon taxes offer no plausible link between the economic burdens that the tax would impose and the differing benefits of public spending across individuals.  Because the tax would be hidden in the prices of goods and services, it would obscure rather than clarify the cost of government, a “fiscal illusion” effect inconsistent with the pursuit of fiscal discipline narrowly and efficiency in the size of government generally.
Me: I’m not sure what kind of tax really makes “a plausible link between the economic burdens that the tax would impose and the differing benefits of public spending across individuals.” Certainly the income tax doesn’t do this; one taxpayer might pay much more than another, in absolute or proportional terms, without necessarily benefitting more from whatever the government does with the money. As for being “hidden in the price of goods and services,” surely people will know that increased prices at the gas pump and elsewhere are related to any carbon tax that’s been imposed by the federal government; if not, that would suggest the tax really isn’t much of a burden, and in any case some form of disclosure could be added (e.g., your gas receipt saying x dollars or percent of this bill resulted from the carbon tax).

Pethokoukis Zycher writes:
The carbon revenues will engender a large rent-seeking tug-of-war exercise the result of which is difficult to predict; but it is far, far, far from obvious that improved “economic efficiency” would be prominent among them.
Me: Yes, there will be fights over government funding, just as there are now. If a carbon tax replaces (as it should) some portion of income taxes, payroll taxes or other taxes, this effect could be limited. In the present situation, fossil fuel companies have done an excellent job of promoting their own interests over broader public interests, so a carbon tax will have the benefit of reducing that effect. The question is not whether a carbon tax will be perfectly designed and implemented, but whether it would be an improvement over current public policy. I don’t find in Pethokoukis’s Zycher's argument a compelling reason to think it would not.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 9/1/13.
That's a cheetah, the fastest land animal in the world, or the fastest animal period it seems. Too fast for me to get a photo during the actual running. Posting may continue to be slow for some time.