23 Feb 2021


The PolicySmith has long admired the conservative commentariat that frequents the pages of the Wall Street Journal, National Review and the late Weekly Standard. New conservative voices, among them Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk, assure conservative perspectives will be given voice long into the future.

Surgical skewering of the Left by Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Kim Strassel, the late Charles Krauthammer and other worthies is always entertaining. Also carrying the water, at least in the Covid mess and critiques of the press, Holman Jenkins, Jr. of the WSJ has excelled.

Unfortunately, even those in the upper echelons have the occasional blind spot. In Jenkins case he finds a carbon tax to be THE answer to reducing carbon emissions.

His essays for years have touted an improbable a carbon tax scheme as the panacea for reducing carbon emissions, thereby obviating the need for the Green New Deal and setting the US on the path to carbon neutrality.

Imagine! Solving climate conundrums with a tax! It sounds so simple! Even Al Gore and RFK, Jr. could understand it.

No surprise, past is again prologue. Despite the absence of such a tax or any other specific legislative directive, the US is the lone Tier One nation to have met or exceeded goals in the Paris climate accords. These “acccords” haven’t the force of a treaty for the US or any other nation. They are merely political promises (and should be taken with appropriate skepticism). The result is a reprise of the Kyoto accords. The lead emitters talked a good game — China and India — but neither they, nor any developed economy but the US, attained promised goals.

Nevertheless Mr. Jenkins continues to thump the tub for a tax that has zero chance to become law. As far back as 2014 Jenkins opined, “A straight-up revenue neutral carbon tax clearly is our first-best policy rewarding an infinite and unpredictable variety of innovations by which humans would satisfy their energy needs while releasing less carbon in the atmosphere.”(Birth of a Climate Mafia, WSJ Opinion, July 1, 2014

Other conservative wags — notably Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute, Harvard’s Gregory Mankiw and Andrew Moylan, are on the bandwagon with Jenkins. Moylan of the R Street Institute states, “A conservative carbon tax has three key components: revenue neutrality, elimination of existing taxes and regulatory reform…” He continues the pipe dream with a $20/ton levy, $1.5 trillion revenue in 10 years and elimination of “levies that conservatives rightly regard as structurally deficient or duplicative.” (R Street press release, June 25,2013)

Tax and revenue neutrality are mutually exclusive, most especially in today’s rancorous political milieu. How about elimination of existing taxes? Throw in regulatory reform — in a Democrat administration no less — and the formula for dead on arrival is complete.

Of such fantasies are lofty theories spun. Real life experience calls into question the fundamentals of the carbon tax advanced above. Oh sure it sounds like a grand design, but in what century will Rs and Ds come together in a rational policy agreement? Not this one.

Should such a proposal even be introduced, by the time the Gomers and Goobers in the bureaucracy conclude their “polishing” the result would be a grotesque Rube Goldberg contraption/catastrophe that is not revenue neutral, allows for zero regulatory reform and is an add-on to existing levies. Count on the new kid on the block growing government with new experts, attorneys, bureaucrats, funding requests, advocates, opposition haggling, and so on.

Again, past is prologue. Recall the National Energy Policy Act approved during the Nixon years. It was a simple, benign document providing for review of environmental impacts of federal projects, and possible steps for mitigating adverse impacts. Now it is a monstrous monolith, the scourge of any proposed development and a cudgel wielded by enviro activists nationwide. Consider replicating the NEPA mischief with carbon tax rates, administration, legal challenges, congressional wrangling, political posturing, costs in productivity, filing reports, market distortions and more.

From otherwise sane conservatives, the notion of a tax to achieve an environmental end with zero ability to measure outcomes is incomprehensible. A US carbon tax would impact roughly 30% of the world GDP and less than one quarter of industrial emissions.

It does not and cannot address the carbon dioxide humans exhale, emissions from the plant and animal kingdoms, and particularly has zero impact on the remaining 70 percent of industrial activity worldwide.

Bedwetters and tut-tutters bleat that the US “needs to set a good example.” In a rational world perhaps that might matter. But reality bites — China, getting a free ride until 2030 in the accords, will take every advantage of the US hamstringing itself economically, the EU doesn’t know if it is pro-West or pro-East. The US has already slapped Canada by cancelling the Keystone Pipeline and may well shoot itself in the foot with Dakota Access and future pipelines.

Some example!

Holman Jenkins Jr. is an insightful writer and offers unvarnished and thought-provoking opinion. We may look forward to his realization that climate “solutions” proceeding from new taxes are problems thinly disguised, and belong in the round file under the desk.

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