by Jerome a Paris
Sun Mar 18th, 2007 at 09:14:21 AM EST
In a quite stunning display of brazenness (Emissions curbs must be simple), Martin Wolf explained earlier this week how lefties that worry about global warming are really trying to prevent people from having fun and that their proposed solutions are impractical.
This is partly because many on the climate-change bandwagon do not want to leave the market economy intact. “Are you enjoying yourselves?” seems to be their question. “Let’s find some way of stopping you.” It is also because politicians have a strong desire to tinker piecemeal.
And yet, his proposed solution sounds suspiciously lefty. Maybe it's time to help him do his "coming out"?
As he has done in earlier columns, he says we should worry about global warming, but that there is actually a very simple and easy solution: a global tax on carbon.
Let us concentrate on the big issues: any workable policy system must be global; it must create stable incentives; it must be administratively simple; it must include investment in creation and dissemination of new technologies; and, not least, it must allow people to get on with their lives with as much freedom as possible. Uniform prices on emissions – ideally, through taxation – will do most of this job. Almost everything else is unnecessary or counterproductive.
Hmmm... let's see...
- uniform. Sounds incompatible with the Martin Wolf's very own ideas, from a column earlier in the same week, about the EU and its ideal of "competition among states embedded in a shared institutional framework." Uniform does not let much room for competition, does it?
- prices on emissions. Isn't that fundamentally making the point of the climate change bandwagon? That emissions are bad and must be reduced (and "fun" limited)? Doing it via a pricing (or "market") mechanism does not eliminate the fact that a judgement is passed on by public authorities on private activity - a moral judgement, one could say. Of course, at least, rationing by prices penalizes the poor rather than the rich, but it's still rationing. How is that compatible with the pro-market liberalism that wold claims to be saving?
- ideally through taxation. Wow. A pro-market liberal openly calling for tax increases. Worldwide. Sounds like he doesn't want anyone to "enjoy themselves". It's only fair if all the poor people of the planet share the pain of repairing what we have broken.
- Who will run this?. Left unsaid in that "simple" solution is who will determine the appropriate level of "uniform" tax to apply, and who gets the money. (Oh - and what it's spent on, too.) A world government maybe? A new global bureaucracy? Or some intergovernmental treaty negotiated by politicians beholden to their domestic constituencies, and forced to "tinker" to find an acceptable compromise? Either way, it will be neither simple, not liberal.
The unavoidable fact remains that the West still spews more carbon per head, by far, than the rest of the world, and thus has to show the way towards a lower carbon energy, by showing the example. It does not matter than 3 billion Chinese and Indians, together, emit more carbon than 500 million Europeans. They will not sacrifice the prospect of increasing prosperity - more cars, more appliances, bigger homes - however flawed that prosperity is measured, however unsustainable it is in the medium term, however much pollution they have to deal with in the meantime, however much inequality it generates, until we show that we are serious about restraining our own much more spendthrift ways.
People I think of as my friends – pro-market liberals – are suspicious of what many of them consider the “man-made climate change hysteria”. They are surely right to note that it is a remarkably convenient banner for opponents of the market economy, be they egalitarians or deep-green environmentalists. This time, they fear, Malthusians and socialists may have a politically successful (albeit, in their view, scientifically false) argument in favour of a long-standing desire to throttle the life out of the free-enterprise economy.
Smearing people that first and foremost call for real "markets" (i.e. that would actually price in the reality of pollution and other externalities currently left to the community to bear; that would actually be competitive markets and not oligopolies; that would actually enforce the sames rules on the biggest players as on others) will not change reality, Mr Wolf. And your own prescriptions sound awfully egalitarian (sorry, 'uniform'), deep green (sorry, "pricing all emissions"), malthusian (climate change is a "concern") and socialist (sorry, "global tax") themselves.
Time to come out, maybe?