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Archive for the ‘Fascism’ Category

Regular readers may have noticed that I generally say that advocates of big government are “statists.”

I could call them “liberals,” but I don’t like that using that term since the early advocates of economic and personal liberty were “classical liberals” such as Adam Smith, John Locke, and Jean-Baptiste Say. And proponents of these ideas are still called “liberals” in Europe and Australia.

I could call them “socialists,” but I don’t think that’s technically accurate since the theory is based on government ownership of the means of production. This is why I’ve been in the strange position of defending Obama when some folks have used the S word to describe him.

I could call them “fascists,” which Thomas Sowell explains is the most accurate way of describing the modern left’s economic ideology, but that term also implies racism. But while leftists sometimes support policies that hurt minorities, they’re not motivated by racial animus.

I could call them “corporatists,” and I actually have used that term on occasion, but I think it’s too narrow. It’s not really an ideology, but rather a description of the sleazy alliance of the left and big business, such as we saw for TARP and Wall Street, or Obamacare and Big Pharma.

I’m motivated to write about my favorite way of expressing opprobrium because I just read a very interesting column in the U.K.-based Telegraph by Tim Stanley, an American historian.

He delves into the issue of whether it’s right to call Hitler a socialist.

…the Nazis did call themselves National Socialists. But…labels can be misleading. …Hitler wasn’t a socialist became apparent within weeks of becoming Chancellor of Germany when he started arresting socialists and communists. He did this, claim some, because they were competing brands of socialism. But that doesn’t explain why Hitler defined his politics so absolutely as a war on Bolshevism… Marxism is defined by class war, and socialism is accomplished with the total victory of the Proletariat over the ruling classes. By contrast, Hitler offered an alliance between labour and capital in the form of corporatism… It is true that the economy was socialised in the latter part of the 1930s, but not for the sake of building socialism. It was to prepare for war. Politics came before economics in the fascist state to the degree that it’s hard to conceive of Hitler as a coherent economic thinker at all. …Marxism defines history as a class struggle. Hitler saw it as a racial conflict… he was sometimes prepared to use socialist economics to pursue his agenda.

These all seem to be valid points, but I wonder whether it makes a difference.

Tarantulas, black widows, and brown recluses are all different species of arachnids, but it’s also correct to say that they are all poisonous spiders.

And I sure as heck wouldn’t want any of them to bite me.

Similarly, socialism, Marxism, and fascism may have specific motivations and characteristics, but they’re all forms of statism.

And I definitely don’t want to acquiesce to any of those coercive ideologies.

Which seems to be Tim Stanley’s conclusion as well.

The moral lesson is that power corrupts everyone: Left, Right, men, women, gay, straight, black, white, religious, atheist. The best countries have constitutions that limit the government, cherish the private sphere and largely leave the individual to make their own mistakes.

Now let’s look at a real-world example of a country that is suffering because of statism.

Allister Heath of City A.M. in London explains what is happening in Venezuela.

IF you want to see how to destroy an economy and a society, look no further than Venezuela. …the country is on the verge of total collapse… Food is running out, as are other essentials, even though the country claims the world’s largest oil reserves. There are shortages of toilet paper and soap, empty shelves and massive crowds queuing for hours in front of supermarkets. …The reason? A brain-dead rejection of basic economics, and a hardline, anti-market approach of the worst possible kind. There are maximum prices, other prices controls, profit controls, capital controls, nationalisations, expropriations and every other statist, atavistic policy you can think of. An extreme left wing government has waged war on capitalism and won; and as ever, ordinary people are paying the price. …The lesson from all of that is clear. Socialism doesn’t work. Price controls don’t work. Stealing people’s property doesn’t work. Chasing away foreigners doesn’t work. Destroying the supply-side of an economy doesn’t work. …It is a spectacularly horrible case of what FA Hayek called the Road to Serfdom.

For all intents and purposes, Venezuela is sort of like France, but without the rule of law. Which means bad policies become catastrophic policies.

And Allister is right. It is ordinary people who suffer. Venezuela’s long-term experiment with statism has resulted in stagnation and chaos. Once one of the richest nations in Latin America, it is now falling behind nations that have liberalized.

The Venezuelan government can’t keep food on the shelves, and it is moving closer and closer to Cuban-style rationing of basic necessities.

And people familiar with the history of statist regimes won’t be surprised to learn that Venezuela also is disarming the citizenry.

P.S. One business leader got a lot of heat for observing that Obamanomics was more like fascism than socialism. And another caught a bunch of grief for using an analogy about tax hikes and the Nazi invasion of Poland.

If they used “statism” instead, they would have been more accurate and avoided criticism.

P.P.S. This image is a funny but accurate illustration of the difference between socialism and capitalism. And here’s a socialism-for-kids image, but it’s really a parody of Obama’s class-warfare mentality.

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I’m a big fan of John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. Not only is he a successful, job-creating entrepreneur, but he also cited my work (specifically, this budget analysis) when interviewed by the statists at Mother Jones.

He also has some good insights about the economics of Obamacare. Here’s the key passage from the Washington Times report.

The CEO of Whole Foods compared President Obama’s health care law to “fascism” in a radio interview on Wednesday, a turnabout from earlier comments in which he compared the signature reforms to socialism. “Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism,” John Mackey told NPR’s Morning Edition. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.”

I’ve already provided my two cents on the underlying theory of Obamanomics, and I agree that socialism is not the right term.

Like Thomas Sowell and John Mackey, I think that it’s technically more accurate to say that Obamacare is fascism – nominal private ownership but government control.

But I’ve also concluded that it’s a distraction to use that term. Which is why I prefer to call Obama a statist or corporatist. Though maybe we should add redistributionist to that list.

P.S. Here’s the Obama version of Socialism for Kids.

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A couple of years ago, Newt Gingrich accused Obama of being a socialist, causing some squawking and grousing about incivility from the more sensitive types in Washington.

I jumped to the President’s defense, pointing out that Obama is a different type of statist.

I’m gratified that Thomas Sowell of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution agrees with me.

It bothers me a little when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” He certainly is an enemy of the free market, and wants politicians and bureaucrats to make the fundamental decisions about the economy. But that does not mean that he wants government ownership of the means of production, which has long been a standard definition of socialism. What President Obama has been pushing for, and moving toward, is more insidious: government control of the economy, while leaving ownership in private hands. That way, politicians get to call the shots but, when their bright ideas lead to disaster, they can always blame those who own businesses in the private sector. Politically, it is heads-I-win when things go right, and tails-you-lose when things go wrong. This is far preferable, from Obama’s point of view, since it gives him a variety of scapegoats for all his failed policies… Thus the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the “greed” of the insurance companies.

So what is the right technical description of what Obama is proposing? Well, if you allow nominal private property, but impose government control, it’s called fascism. Sowell agrees, and also adds some history for the unenlightened.

One of the reasons why both pro-Obama and anti-Obama observers may be reluctant to see him as fascist is that both tend to accept the prevailing notion that fascism is on the political right, while it is obvious that Obama is on the political left. Back in the 1920s, however, when fascism was a new political development, it was widely — and correctly — regarded as being on the political left. Jonah Goldberg’s great book “Liberal Fascism” cites overwhelming evidence of the fascists’ consistent pursuit of the goals of the left, and of the left’s embrace of the fascists as one of their own during the 1920s.Mussolini, the originator of fascism, was lionized by the left, both in Europe and in America, during the 1920s. Even Hitler, who adopted fascist ideas in the 1920s, was seen by some, including W.E.B. Du Bois, as a man of the left. …What socialism, fascism and other ideologies of the left have in common is an assumption that some very wise people — like themselves — need to take decisions out of the hands of lesser people, like the rest of us, and impose those decisions by government fiat. …Only our own awareness of the huge stakes involved can save us from the rampaging presumptions of our betters, whether they are called socialists or fascists. So long as we buy their heady rhetoric, we are selling our birthright of freedom.

All this being said, I want to reiterate something else that I wrote back in 2010. It is counterproductive to call Obama a fascist because that term is now linked to the specific form of evil produced by Hitler and the National Socialist Party.

So if you disapprove of Obama’s policies, call him a statist or a corporatist. Heck, you can say he believes in cronyism or maybe even collectivism. Those terms get across that he wants more government without causing needless controversy that distracts from the main message.

But make sure you apply the same term to Republicans who impose the same types of policies, such as Bush and Nixon.

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Some of the world’s most disgusting and evil regimes restricted the right to emigrate, including the imposition of exit taxes designed to fleece those who did want to escape.

Given the evils of communism, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Soviet Union had such a policy. Here’s an excerpt from a 1972 story in the Palm Beach Post.

…citizens have been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union unless they pay a new tax… Nearly 500 Jews signed a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim calling the tax an illegal “ransom” and an extreme injustice. Jews trying to emigrate to Israel have been the main victims of the new tax imposed by a decree… However, the tax is applied to anyone trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, the Nazis also used the same approach. Here are the relevant passages from a report by the World Jewish Congress.

… nearly a third of the German war effort was paid for with money stolen from Jews according a new study about the role of the German Finance Ministry during the ‘Third Reich’. …Ministry officials robbed an estimated 120 billion reichsmarks [the equivalent of nearly US$ 20 billion today] by looting and through stringent confiscation laws. …Tax laws discriminated against Jews from 1934, while some who managed to leave Germany before the Holocaust had much of their wealth seized through an ‘exit tax’.

Unfortunately, exit taxes still exist, and I’m embarrassed to say that the United States is one of the few countries to impose such a levy.

There’s no anti-Semitic motive for the tax. Instead, politicians have imposed exit taxes because some Americans decided to emigrate to jurisdictions with better tax law.  And rather than interpret this as a sign that the tax code was too onerous and should be replaced with something like a flat tax, they decided to enact a law to ransack people as they crossed the border.

But even this reprehensible policy isn’t enough for some of the clowns in Washington. Senator Barbara Boxer, the empty suit from the formerly Golden State, has decided that basic liberties such as the presumption of innocence are an impediment to tax enforcement. As such, she’s attached an odious provision to a transportation bill that would restrict the right to travel.

"Ihren papieren, bitte?"

A bill…that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the  U.S. is one step closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 1813 was introduced back in November by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-LosAngeles)… Section 40304 of the legislation states that any individual who owes more than $50,000 to the Internal Revenue Service may be subject to “action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport”. … there does not appear to be any specific language requiring a taxpayer to be charged with tax evasion or any other crime in order to have their passport revoked or limited — only that a notice of lien or levy has been filed by the IRS.

The good news, at least relatively speaking, is that Boxer is only motivated by greed and statism. But the end result is still a reprehensible restriction on the liberty of people disfavored by the ruling elite.

If Barbara Boxer is any sort of example, no wonder California is such a mess, losing jobs and investment to other states.

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I hope my car doesn’t break down anytime soon. I’ve already sworn I will never buy a car from General Motors or Chrysler, and now I have to add Mercedes-Benz to my personal boycott list.

Mercedes Spokesman Glorifies Totalitarian Murderer

Maybe I’m being naively dogmatic, but I refuse to patronize a company that uses a mass murdering communist and racist like Che Guevera as a marketing ploy.

It’s not like I would ever spend a lot of money for a car anyhow, but even if somebody deposits $10 million in my bank account, you can rest assured that I won’t be cruising around town in the MB Guevera C230, the MB Hitler E350, or the MB Mao GL450.

Michael Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation says it much better than I can.

There’s something about Che Guevara that convinces older European men that they will become cooler through association with his “brand.” We saw that again yesterday when Mercedes-Benz Chairman Dieter Zetsche launched a new car under a banner picture of Guevara. …Che Guevara, not to put too fine a point on it, was a psychopath whose sadistic lust for blood was not easily quenched. He killed for pleasure. He had, moreover, little time for youthful rebellion and none at all for individualism. Lastly, Che Guevara was a racist who specifically held blacks in contempt. I think about this often when I see deluded young African-Americans wearing a t-shirt with his likeness. But a German born a handful of years after 1945 really ought to have known better. Much has been written about how Guevara executed men and boys in prison in the early revolutionary years in Cuba, disposing of such bourgeois niceties as trials. …Speaking of blacks he said: “The ***** is indolent and lazy, and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.” Yes, quite a model that Che Guevara. You’d buy a car from him, wouldn’t you? What will Mercedes-Benz come up with next? The Baader-Mienhof super coupe?

Almost exactly one year ago, the Baltimore Symphony used the Hammer and Sickle emblem of the Soviet Union to promote an event. That was disgusting, but at least the event involved the work of a Soviet-era composer.

Mercedes-Benz, by contrast, is using the image Che Guevera because the amoral executives of the company think this will help sell cars to an amoral public.

Please don’t buy anything from a company with that cavalier attitude about human decency.

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I went to the website of a local radio station last night to check the weather forecast and was somewhat startled to see an advertisement for a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. But what shocked me wasn’t the music, but rather the use of the Soviet hammer and sickle, which represents a regime that murdered nearly 62 million people between 1917 and 1987.

Is the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra really oblivious to the monstrous nature of Soviet Communism? Would they feature a swastika in an ad for concert featuring the music of a German composer who produced works in 1938? I hope not, just like I can’t imagine an architecture exhibit on the work of Albert Speer featuring a swastika (other than in a way designed to connote evil). Nothing positive should be associated with horrid regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into a simple ad. And perhaps I’m so nauseated by vacuous college kids inadvertently celebrating butchery by wearing Che t-shirts that I’m overly sensitive. And maybe there’s even a benign explanation for using the hammer and sickle in this specific case, though I can’t imagine what that might be.

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A reader has asked me to weigh in on the mini-controversy that was triggered when a Wall Street financier said fighting Obama’s tax hikes was like a war and that the battle was “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” While it seems clear that Stephen Schwarzman was not saying Obama was a Nazi or that his policies were akin to those pursued by the National Socialist Workers Party, he obviously should have used a better analogy. Even if the intent is totally innocent and/or intellectually legitimate, it distracts from the core message when you make references to Nazis or fascism (indeed, I’ve made this point in previous posts about whether Obama is a socialist). Here’s an excerpt for those who want to know more about the story.

The billionaire Blackstone private equity boss Stephen Schwarzman, who is among Wall Street’s most visceral proponents of the free market, has been obliged to apologise after comparing Barack Obama’s tax policies to the Nazi advance across Europe at the beginning of the second world war. The tycoon, whose empire stretches from Hilton hotels to the Weather Channel, United Biscuits and the London Eye, has worked himself up into a lather about a proposed tax hike on so-called “carried interest” profits – the gains made when private equity firms buy and sell businesses – from 15% to as much as 35%. “It’s a war,” he told a board members of a non-profit organisation, whose members leaked Schwarzman’s remarks to Newsweek on condition of anonymity. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” …Schwarzman expressed regret for his comments, telling the New York Post: “I apologise for what was an inappropriate analogy.” But he added: “The fundamental issue of the administration’s need to work productively with business for the benefits of the overall economy is still of very serious concern not only to me, but also to large parts of the business community.”

P.S. Obama’s tax hikes are very misguided. But the best analogy is that this is like…um…when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

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It’s hard to believe that anybody would classify the Germans as a master race after reading this Spiegel article. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett plan have a nutty (but at least non-coercive) plan for rich people to give away big share of their fortunes. The German billionaires are rejecting this plan. But not because they are sensible and want capital in the hands of those who know how to create wealth. Instead, they think private charity intrudes upon the government’s responsibility.

Germany’s super-rich have rejected an invitation by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to join their ‘Giving Pledge’ to give away most of their fortune. The pledge has been criticized in Germany, with millionaires saying donations shouldn’t replace duties that would be better carried out by the state. Last week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates attempted to convince billionaires around the world to agree to give away half their money to charity. But in Germany, the “Giving Pledge,” backed by 40 of the world’s wealthiest people, including Gates and Warren Buffet, has met with skepticism, SPIEGEL has learned.

Here’s an actual section of an interview with a rich German. The most astounding comment is when he basically says that private charity is bad because the state should decide how resources are allocated.

SPIEGEL: But doesn’t the money that is donated serve the common good?

Krämer: It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it’s not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That’s a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?

SPIEGEL: It is their money at the end of the day.

Krämer: In this case, 40 superwealthy people want to decide what their money will be used for. That runs counter to the democratically legitimate state. In the end the billionaires are indulging in hobbies that might be in the common good, but are very personal.

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According to a new poll from a Democratic firm, an astounding 55 percent of people think “socialist” is a term that describes Obama. Here’s a blurb from a National Review post.
Deep in the poll, they ask, “Now, I am going to read you a list of words and phrases which people use to describe political figures. For each word or phrase, please tell me whether it describes Barack Obama very well, well, not too well, or not well at all.” …When asked about “a socialist,” 33 percent of likely voters say it describes Obama “very well,” 22 percent say “well,” 15 percent say “not too well,” and 25 percent say “not well at all.” 
I’ve already commented on this issue twice, remarking that Obama technically is a fascist, but that it is much better to call him a statist or corporatist. But there is the tricky issue of whether a word should be defined by experts (to the extent economists are experts on anything) or whether it is more appropriate to accept the common understanding of what a word means. I don’t have a firm opinion on that issue, but if socialism now means someone who believes in lots of government intervention and redistribution, then Obama is a socialist (heck, Bush also would be a socialist). But if we stick with the official definition, which involves government ownership of the means of production, then Obama has relatively few policies that meet that standard.
 
Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor reported on the issue. The most amusing part of the story is that self-identified socialists are insulted to be linked to Obama.
The assertion is getting louder: President Obama is a socialist, a wealth-redistributing wolf in Democrat’s clothing gnawing at America’s entrepreneurial spirit. …So, is Mr. Obama trying to form The Socialist Republic of America? Or are the accusations mainly a political weapon, meant to stick Obama with a label that is poison to many voters and thus make him a one-term president? …[Some] refute the idea that government involvement in failing industries defines a president as socialist – or that wealth is being redistributed from the Forbes 500 richest Americans to the nation’s “Joe the plumbers.” What Mr. Johns, Mr. Gingrich, and others brandishing the “socialist” s-word are really complaining of is a return to the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who advocated vigorous government involvement in the economy, from regulation to pump priming, says labor historian Peter Rachleff of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. “Socialism suggests getting rid of capitalism altogether,” says Dr. Rachleff. “Mr. Obama is not within a million miles of an ideology like that.” For what it’s worth, socialists deny that Obama is one of them – and even seem a bit insulted by the suggestion. “I have been making a living telling people Obama is not a socialist,” says Frank Llewellyn, national director of the Democratic Socialists of America. “It’s frustrating to see people using our brand to criticize programs that have nothing to do with our brand and are not even working.”

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It is now fully apparent that General Motors did not pay back any money to taxpayers, and certainly did not pay back the full amount, as stated in the reprehensibly dishonest ads produced by the company. The Obama Administration took part in the lie, which exposes an additional reason why it was a terrible idea to give the company a bailout. For all intents and purposes, taxpayers paid for the GM ad, and the purpose of the ad – at least in part – was to help the Obama Administration. Welcome to corporatism (the nice way of saying it) and national socialism (the not-so-nice way of saying it). Here’s a great video from Reason.tv explaining GM’s gross prevarication:

The good news is that others are now aware of the Obama/GM scam. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:

G.M. trumpeted its escape from the program as evidence that it had turned the corner in its operations. “G.M. is able to repay the taxpayers in full, with interest, ahead of schedule, because more customers are buying vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse,” boasted Edward E. Whitacre Jr., its chief executive. …Taxpayers are naturally eager for news about bailout repayments. But what neither G.M. nor the Treasury disclosed was that the company simply used other funds held by the Treasury to pay off its original loan. …It’s certainly understandable that G.M. would want to spin its repayment as proof of improving operations. But Mr. Grassley said he was troubled that the Treasury went along with the public relations campaign and didn’t spell out how the loan was retired. “The public would know nothing about the TARP escrow money being the source of the supposed repayment from simply watching G.M.’s TV commercials or reading Treasury’s press release,” Mr. Grassley said in a speech on the Senate floor last Wednesday, saying that “many billions” of federal dollars remained invested in G.M.

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Newt Gingrich writes in the Washington Post today to defend his assertion that Obama is a socialist. He cites several examples of the President’s big-government agenda, which are excerpted below. These are all examples of bad policy, to be sure, but other than the student loan takeover, these are all examples of fascism rather than socialism. Socialism, technically speaking, is government ownership of the means of production. Fascism, by contrast, involves government control and direction of resources, but cloaked by a system of nominal private ownership.

Calling Obama a fascist, however, is counterproductive. Other than a few economists and historians, people don’t understand that fascism developed (with Mussolini perhaps being the best example) as a social/economic system. Instead, most people associate it with Hitler’s lunatic ideas on matters such as race and militarism. That’s why I prefer to call Obama a statist or a corporatist. Those words accurately describe his governing philosophy without creating the distractions caused by calling him a socialist or fascist.

Creating czar positions to micromanage industry reflects the type of hubris of centralized government that Friedrich von Hayek and George Orwell warned against. How can a White House “executive compensation czar” know enough to set salaries in multiple companies for many different people? Having a pay dictatorship for one part of the country sets the pattern for government to claim the right to set pay for everyone. If that isn’t socialism, what word would describe it?

Violating 200 years of bankruptcy precedent to take money from bondholders and investors in the auto industry to pay off union allies is rather an anti-market intervention.

Proposing that the government (through the Environmental Protection Agency or some sort of carbon-trading scheme) micromanage carbon output is proposing that the government be able to control the entire U.S. economy. Look at the proposals for government micromanagement in the 1,428-page Waxman-Markey energy tax bill. (I stopped reading when I got to the section regulating Jacuzzis on Page 442.) If government regulates every aspect of our use of power, it has regulated every aspect of our lives. What is that if not socialism?

Nationalizing student loans so that they are a bureaucratic monopoly. This will surely lead to fraud on the scale we see in Medicare and Medicaid, from which more than $70 billion per year is stolen.

Expanding government mortgage intervention to 90 percent of the housing market.

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This is almost beyond parody. The head of the U.K.’s Environment Agency actually wants to track everyone’s carbon use and make them pay extra is they have an “extravagent lifestyle.” The Telegraph reports on this odious bit of cloying fascism:

Lord Smith of Finsbury believes that implementing individual carbon allowances for every person will be the most effective way of meeting the targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It would involve people being issued with a unique number which they would hand over when purchasing products that contribute to their carbon footprint, such as fuel, airline tickets and electricity. Like with a bank account, a statement would be sent out each month to help people keep track of what they are using. …Lord Smith will call for the scheme to be part of a “Green New Deal” to be introduced within 20 years when he addresses the agency’s annual conference on Monday. …Ruth Lea, an economist from Arbuthnot Banking Group, told the Daily Mail: “This is all about control of the individual and you begin to wonder whether this is what the green agenda has always been about. It’s Orwellian. This will be an enormous tax on business.”

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