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Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

I’m not a big fan of the International Monetary Fund for the simple reason that the international bureaucracy undermines global prosperity by pushing for higher taxes, while also exacerbating moral hazard by providing bailouts to rich investors who foolishly lend money to dodgy and corrupt governments.

Six years ago, I complained that the bureaucrats wanted a giant energy tax, which would have diverted more than $5,000 from an average family’s budget.

That didn’t go anywhere, but the IMF hasn’t given up. Indeed, they’re now floating a new proposal for an enormous global energy tax.

To give credit to the IMF, the bureaucrats don’t mince words or disguise their agenda. The openly stated goal is to impose a giant tax increase.

Domestic policies are thus needed to give people and businesses greater incentives (through pricing or other means) to reduce emissions…international cooperation is key to ensure that all countries do their part. …The shift from fossil fuels will not only transform economic production processes, it will also profoundly change the lives of many people and communities. …Carbon taxes—charges on the carbon content of fossil fuels—and similar arrangements to increase the price of carbon, are the single most powerful and efficient tool… Even so, the global average carbon price is $2 a ton… To illustrate the extra effort needed by each country…, three scenarios are considered, with tax rates of $25, $50, and $75 a ton of CO2 in 2030.

The IMF asserts that the tax should be $75 per ton. At least based on alarmist predictions about climate warming.

What would that mean?

Under carbon taxation on a scale needed…, the price of essential items in household budgets, such as electricity and gasoline, would rise considerably… With a $75 a ton carbon tax, coal prices would typically rise by more than 200 percent above baseline levels in 2030… The price of natural gas…would also rise significantly, by 70 percent on average…carbon taxes would undoubtedly add to the cost of living for all households… In most countries, one-third to one-half of the burden of increased energy prices on households comes indirectly through higher general prices for consumer products.

Here’s a table from the publication showing how various prices would increase.

The bureaucrats recognize that huge tax increases on energy will lead to opposition (remember the Yellow Vest protests in France?).

So the article proposes various ways of using the revenues from a carbon tax, in hopes of creating constituencies that will support the tax.

Here’s the table from the report that outlines the various options.

To be fair, the microeconomic analysis for the various options is reasonably sound.

And if the bureaucrats embraced a complete revenue swap, meaning no net increase in money for politicians, there might be a basis for compromise.

However, it seems clear that the IMF favors a big energy tax combined with universal handouts (i.e., something akin to a “basic income“).

A political consideration in favor of combining carbon taxation with equal dividends is that such an approach creates a large constituency in favor of enacting and keeping the plan (because about 40 percent of the population gains, and those gains rise if the carbon price increases over time).

And other supporters of carbon taxes also want to use the revenue to finance a bigger burden of government.

Last but not least, it’s worth noting that the IMF wants to get poor nations to participate in this scheme by offering more foreign aid. That may be good for the bank accounts of corrupt politicians, but it won’t be good news for those countries.

And rich nations would be threatened with protectionism.

Turning an international carbon price floor into reality would require agreement among participants…participation in the agreement among emerging market economies might be encouraged through side payments, technology transfers…nonparticipants could be coerced into joining the agreement through trade sanctions…or border carbon adjustments (levying charges on the unpriced carbon emissions embodied in imports from nonparticipant countries to match the domestic carbon tax).

I’m amused, by the way, that the IMF has a creative euphemism (“border carbon adjustments”) for protectionism. I’m surprised Trump doesn’t do something similar (perhaps “border wage adjustment”).

For what it’s worth, the bureaucracy criticized Trump for being a protectionist, but I guess trade taxes are okay when the IMF proposes them.

But let’s not digress. The bottom line is that a massive global energy tax is bad news, particularly since politicians will use the windfall to expand the burden of government.

P.S. Proponents sometimes claim that a carbon tax is a neutral and non-destructive form of tax. That’s inaccurate. Such levies may not do as much damage as income taxes, on a per-dollar-collected basis, but that doesn’t magically mean there’s no economic harm (the same is true for consumption taxes and payroll taxes).

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Back in 2012, I wrote that the left’s hostility to tax competition had reached such a crazy level that some of them were even urging military action against low-tax jurisdictions.

Though I was amused to see that this warmongering focused on tiny jurisdictions such as Monaco and the Cayman Islands rather than the well-armed Swiss.

But maybe the militaristic statists are getting braver.

Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard, openly suggests in a column for Foreign Policy that it may be necessary to invade Brazil in the name of global warming.

…how far would you go to prevent irreversible environmental damage? In particular, do states have the right—or even the obligation—to intervene in a foreign country in order to prevent it from causing irreversible and possibly catastrophic harm to the environment? …I raise this issue in light of the news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is accelerating development of the Amazon rainforest… What should (or must) the international community do to prevent a misguided Brazilian president (or political leaders in other countries) from taking actions that could harm all of us?

In the article, Professor Walt mentions sanctions and protectionism as potential tools.

But he also thinks a military option should be on the table.

…international law authorizes countries to go to war for self-defense or when the Security Council authorizes military action. It’s even legal to attack another country’s territory preemptively, provided there is a well-founded basis…destroying the Amazon rainforest presents a clear and obvious threat to many other countries… I don’t mean to single out Brazil: It would be an equally radical step to threaten the United States or China if they refused to stop emitting so many greenhouse gases. …It might seem far-fetched to imagine states threatening military action to prevent this today, but it becomes more likely if worst-case estimates of our climate future turn out to be correct.

Wow.

Because I’m not a scientist, I generally don’t write about global warming. Or climate change, or climate crisis, or whatever it’s now being called.

But I am very skeptical of people who make absurd and hysterical arguments (climate change will cause genocide, it will cause AIDS, it is supported by racists, it means Cuba is better than the USA, it causes terrorism, it caused Brexit, etc) in order to advance an agenda that would dramatically expand the burden of government.

Some of them are simply scammers, using the issue to line their pockets with government grants.

But some of them are true believers who behave in very weird ways (don’t bathe, sterilize themselves, hand-cranked vibrators, choose death, etc).

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I have a series of columns where I explore tactical disagreements with folks who generally favor free markets and less government.

  • In Part I, I defended the flat tax, which had been criticized by Reihan Salam
  • In Part II, I explained why I thought a comprehensive fiscal package from the American Enterprise Institute was too timid.
  • In Part III, I disagreed with Jerry Taylor’s argument for a carbon tax.
  • In Part IV, I highlighted reasons why conservatives should reject a federal program for paid parental leave.

Today, we’re going to revisit the carbon tax because Josiah Neeley and William Murray of the R Street Institute have a column in the Hill that claims that levy would not finance bigger government.

…There have been numerous tax rate changes in the past 70 years, with the marginal income tax rate falling from a high of over 90 percent in the 1950s to as low as 28 percent in the late 1980s. Yet during this entire time period, federal tax revenue has stayed in a fairly narrow band when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product, never rising above 20 percent or falling much below 15 percent between 1950 and 2018. This phenomenon, which keeps federal revenues within a relatively narrow band, is known as Hauser’s law…the belief that any kind of new taxation introduces even greater government spending is based on very little actual evidence. Instead, Hauser’s law provides evidence that certain kinds of tax swaps, such as exchanging an income tax for a carbon tax, may actually increase the rate of economic growth without increasing the tax share of the overall economy.

They also claim that higher taxes don’t lead to more spending.

…demand for government spending drives tax policy, not the other way around. This conclusion has important implications for the carbon tax debate. …The relative imperviousness of the gross domestic product tax percent equilibrium since the late 1940s suggests that spending pressures drive taxes and not the other way around.

I have two responses to this analysis.

First, I very much want Hauser’s Law to be true. It would be very comforting if politicians in Washington could never seize more than 20 percent of the private sector’s output.

Sadly, that’s simply not the case. Just look at Europe, where central governments routinely extract far more than 40 percent of economic output.

All that’s required is taxes that target lower- and middle-income taxpayers. That’s happened in Europe because of harsh value-added taxes, punitive payroll taxes, onerous energy taxes, and income taxes that impose very high rates on ordinary people.

Needless to say, a carbon tax would be a step in that direction.

Second, the authors offer zero evidence that “government spending drives tax policy, not the other way around.”

By contrast, there is some persuasive data for the “starve the beast” hypothesis, which is based on the notion that higher taxes will encourage more spending.

In other words, Milton Friedman was right when he warned that “History shows that over a long period of time government will spend whatever the tax system raises plus as much more as it can get away with.”

Though I actually don’t think this causality debate is very important. The bottom line is that higher taxes are a bad idea if they trigger higher spending, and higher taxes also are a bad idea if they merely enable higher spending.

The column in the Hill is a spin-off from a recent study published by the R Street Institute.

Let’s look at that publication to further explore this issue. It starts with the basic hypothesis that a revenue-neutral carbon tax would be desirable.

…a carbon tax…provides a source of revenue that can be put to beneficial purposes, such as funding cuts to other existing taxes. By using the revenue from a carbon tax to replace existing ones, such a revenue neutral “tax swap” would greatly reduce or eliminate the economic costs of the tax. Indeed, in some cases, even if benefits from reduced emissions are not considered, a tax swap could be a net positive for the economy. …many critics of a carbon tax are skeptical as to whether a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be enacted. Some critics go further, arguing that even if a carbon tax started out as revenue neutral, it would not remain so. …While there are no guarantees, the existing evidence suggests that a revenue-neutral carbon tax would not lead to larger government over the long term and could even shrink it.

I don’t object to the notion that a carbon tax would be theoretically desirable if it replaced a tax that did more damage per dollar collected, such as the corporate income tax.

My concern has always been such a swap is highly unlikely. Indeed, many proponents of the carbon tax are very explicit about wanting to use the revenues to create a new entitlement. That would be the worst outcome, assuming we want more growth.

And, as noted above, I don’t think Hauser’s Law would save us from higher overall taxes and a larger burden of government spending.

Interestingly, the study basically acknowledges the same thing.

…given that Hauser’s Law is not an iron law of economics, it would be imprudent to put too much weight on it when considering the effects of a tax swap.

There are a couple of other parts of the study that deserve attention, including the assertion that politicians would have a hard time using the carbon tax as a money machine.

…a carbon tax has natural limitations that preclude it from being used to generate ever-increasing amounts of tax revenue. This is because higher carbon-tax rates induce a more rapid fall in greenhouse gas emissions. This, in turn, limits the overall revenue collected from the tax. In fact, unlike revenue from income, sales or property taxes, which tends to increase over time even at a constant tax rate, revenue from a carbon tax is likely to remain stable or fall gradually as emissions decline.

Since I’m a fan of the Laffer Curve, I think this argument is very reasonable in theory.

In effect, the R Street Institute is making the same argument – excessive tax rates can reduce revenue – that Alexander Hamilton used when endorsing tariffs.

But where is the point where carbon taxes become excessive? I don’t know the answer, but I’m very worried that there would be ample leeway to collect a lot of tax revenue before getting close to the revenue-maximizing point (the Congressional Budget Office estimates that a $25-per-ton carbon tax would generate more than $1 trillion in the first ten years).

The bottom line is that I worry that a carbon tax likely would be akin to a value-added tax. Yes, there are negative feedback effects from a VAT, as I noted at the end of yesterday’s column. But that doesn’t change the fact that the revenue-generating capacity of the VAT helps to explain Europe’s bloated welfare states.

I understand how a carbon tax, in theory, might not enable bigger government. But I see no way, in reality, that politicians wouldn’t use this new levy to finance even more spending.

P.S. If you’re not already convinced that a carbon tax will mean bigger government, then all you need to know is that both the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development support higher energy taxes for the United States.

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I’ve been writing about proposed carbon taxes since 2012.

My message is simple and straightforward. It’s possible to design a carbon tax that is theoretically appealing. Simply use all the revenue to get rid of some other tax that causes greater economic harm, such as the corporate income tax.

Which is basically the same argument that leads some folks to like the value-added tax.

But my argument against the carbon tax (like my argument against the VAT) is that we shouldn’t give politicians a new source of revenue without some sort of up-front, non-reversible repeal of an existing tax.

And since that’s not possible, the only good carbon tax is a dead carbon tax. However, it’s not very easy to kill this tax.

Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, working with several other organizations, just released four studies to boost the carbon tax.

Study #1.

Study #2.

Study #3.

Study #4.

And below you’ll see the most relevant table, which comes from study #4. It shows – in theory – what politicians might do with the additional money.

To add my two cents, I augmented the chart by numbering the options (in red) and then providing a short critique (in green).

In large part, I’m pointing out that “theory” may not resemble reality. For instance, how likely is it that politicians would impose this huge tax hike and allow all the funds to be used for deficit reduction (Option #3) instead of using a big chunk of the cash to buy votes?

Unfortunately, it’s not just academics and think tank people who are interested in this new tax.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Republican congressman is pushing this levy.

A Florida Republican is set to propose a carbon-tax bill in Congress… The plan from Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who represents a Miami-area district…, would replace the federal gasoline tax with a tax on businesses including refineries, power plants and steel mills based on how much oil, coal and other fossil fuels they buy. The carbon tax would likely add three to 11 cents to the average pump price for a gallon of gasoline… he also views it as an infrastructure bill—it is crafted to raise additional revenue for bridges, roads and other projects—and as something he can sell as tax reform because it eliminates the gasoline tax. …Mr. Curbelo’s proposal would price carbon at $24 a metric ton and increase that every year by 2% plus the rate of inflation. It replaces the gasoline tax, which Mr. Cubelo frames as a version of tax overhaul. If enacted, his plan would raise an additional $57 billion to $106 billion a year.

Since Congressman Curbelo largely wants the new tax to fund bigger government, he’s proposing a version of Option #5.

Alex Brill of the American Enterprise Institute wants a different type of carbon tax.

One worthy candidate for the next tax reform effort is a cut in the most distortionary taxes in exchange for a tax on carbon emissions, combined with permanent carbon deregulation of the energy sector. …here are the three key components of a deregulatory carbon tax reform… Roll back burdensome carbon-related regulations. …The motivation is not disregard for the environment or climate, but distrust in the regulatory state as an efficient instrument. …A transparent carbon tax would…raise the price of certain consumer goods, including electricity and gasoline. That is a reality… It is, in fact, the policy’s intent. …a carbon tax would generate revenue that could be used to offset the cost of eliminating other taxes that impose greater harm on the economy. …Turning carbon tax revenues into universal welfare payments, as some have suggested, would not promote long-run economic growth.

The good news is that Alex wants Option #4 and is opposed to Option #2.

But that still doesn’t make it a good idea since Congress would never get rid of the corporate income tax.

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Michael Marlow also wants advocates of smaller government to support a carbon tax.

…conservatives should embrace the political opportunity it presents to reduce the harmful distortions imposed by other taxes and shrink the regulatory morass of federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. conservatives can achieve these goals with a well-crafted revenue-neutral carbon tax. …Because it would trade “good” policy (a carbon tax) for “bad” policy (regulations and taxes with high excess burdens), it would make government more efficient. And packaging together the benefits from deregulation and tax reform would compensate the public for any adverse economic impact… Ensuring that a carbon tax would not simply finance more government spending requires a strict commitment by conservatives that any legislation establishing a tax on carbon emissions must also include, first, an equal tax cut, preferably targeting existing taxes that impose the highest excess burdens on the economy, and second, a significant rollback of carbon regulations. On these points, conservatives should not negotiate.

Like Alex Brill, Michael Marlow is proposing to do the wrong thing in the best way.

But Option #4 would only be acceptable if the corporate tax is being totally abolished. And that’s not what he’s proposing.

Which is why many sensible voices are explaining that there’s no acceptable argument for a carbon tax.

The Wall Street Journal, for instance, opined on this issue last year.

…never changing is the call from some Republicans to neutralize the issue by handing more economic power to the federal government through a tax on carbon. …George Shultz and James Baker…have joined a group of GOP worthies for a carbon tax… They propose a gradually increasing tax that would be redistributed to Americans as a “dividend.” This tax on fossil fuels would replace the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and a crush of other punitive regulations. …A carbon tax would be better than bankrupting industries by regulation and more efficient than a “cap-and-trade” emissions credit scheme. Such a tax might be worth considering if traded for radically lower taxes on capital or income.

The WSJ shares my concern that Option #4 eventually would turn into Option #2 or Option #5.

…in the real world the Shultz-Baker tax is likely to be one more levy on the private economy. Even if a grand tax swap were politically possible, a future Congress might jack up rates or find ways to reinstate regulations. Another problem is the “dividend.” …the purpose of taxes is to fund government services, not shuffle money from one payer to another. No doubt politicians would take a cut to funnel into renewable energy or some other vote-buying program. The rebates would also become a new de facto entitlement… all methods of calculating a price for carbon are susceptible to political manipulation. The Obama Administration spent years fudging “social cost of carbon” estimates to justify its regulatory agenda. The tax rate would also be influenced by international climate models that have overestimated the increase in global temperature for nearly two decades.

A column in National Review is similarly skeptical.

…a small but persistent group of Republicans are trying to persuade conservatives to abandon…principles and embrace a national energy tax. …the Climate Leadership Council, a group led by James Baker and George Shultz…recently met with the Trump administration to encourage the adoption of a $40-per-ton carbon tax. …There is nothing free-market about their massive new tax hike… A carbon tax would punish users of natural gas, oil, and coal, which make up 80 percent of the energy we consume. This means that all American families would face higher electricity bills and gasoline prices. In fact, it’s estimated that the Council’s carbon tax would hike gasoline prices by 36 cents per gallon. …these hikes would have a disproportionate impact on poor and middle-class families, who spend a higher percentage of their income on energy.

The column discusses a specific plan that envisions a new entitlement (Option #2), warning that it eventually would trigger other types of new spending (Option #5).

Shultz and Halstead want to offset the tax by redistributing to the American people the $300 billion in anticipated revenue from the carbon tax. This is not practical in the real world. The idea that Washington politicians would perpetually refund a massive new revenue stream is incredibly naïve… The more likely scenario is that the government would eventually begin to spend the new revenue… Carbon taxes make energy more expensive. They also destroy jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

Benjamin Zycher of AEI also has a skeptical assessment.

The view is widespread among economists that a (Pigouvian) tax on emissions would be more efficient than the regulatory approach because regulations impose a rough, one-size-fits-all framework for reducing emissions, while a tax allows each emitter to find the least expensive method of achieving its emissions goal. …The central problem with the consensus view is straightforward: The emissions goal is not fixed. Instead, it must be chosen. …Once government derives revenues from a system of carbon taxes, with ensuing political competition for those revenues, it is not difficult to predict that under a broad range of conditions the emissions reduction goal will be inefficiently stringent. That is, the tax rate will be too high.

And what about the notion that at least the revenues can be used to reduce other taxes?

Fanciful thinking, Zycher explains.

Why should we predict that the interests benefiting from the reduction in the corporation income tax would prove to be the marginal members of whatever congressional coalition imposes the carbon tax? That certainly is possible, but other outcomes seem far more likely. Some industries and geographic regions will bear disproportionate burdens attendant upon the carbon tax, and their votes will be necessary to enact it, particularly in the US Senate. …The list of potential supplicants is long indeed, each comprising some combination of constituencies to protect and campaign contributions and votes to offer.

For all intents and purposes, he’s explaining that “public choice” will turn a bad idea into a really bad reality.

Paul Blair of Americans for Tax Reform summarizes another new proposal for a carbon tax, which is largely a version of Option #2.

Just last month, seven-figure swamp lobbyists Trent Lott and John Breaux rolled out their support for a “simple and elegant” tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Realizing the insufficient appetite for a new “tax,” the former senators disingenuously relabeled it as a “fee.” Their $40 per ton carbon tax would immediately result in a 36 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax. Proponents of the tax admit that the price of home heating would increase by 22 percent and coal would increase by an average of 264 percent. The revenue generated from this tax would constitute the largest tax increase in U.S. history. To offset some of these astronomical increases in energy costs, the plan would create a new national federally managed welfare program, paying the average family of four $2,000 a year…a program of that scale would greatly exceed the size of Obamacare, giving Uncle Sam the responsibility of managing another $1.7 trillion over a decade.

His conclusion is not subtle.

It’s a plan designed to harm American manufacturers, raise prices for every single American consumer, and prop up uncompetitive expensive sources of energy like solar and wind. It places trust in the federal government to manage yet another massive welfare program, while giving the Left a significant opportunity to extract more and more money from taxpayers. Killing a carbon tax dead in its tracks isn’t only good policy, it’s a basic IQ test for modern day conservatives.

Since Republicans have failed many IQ tests in recent years (see here, here, and here), this doesn’t leave me overflowing with optimism.

Last but not least, Ryan Ellis opines on Cong. Curbelo’s carbon tax.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., will introduce a costly carbon tax bill on manufacturers… Curbelo’s own press release indicate that his carbon tax is structured to be a net tax increase. While it will eliminate the $0.184 per gallon federal tax on gasoline, the carbon tax will raise taxes higher (on net?) to the tune of $57 billion to $106 billion per year. Over a decade that’s a trillion dollar tax increase… Structurally, the Curbelo carbon tax is typical tax-and-spend liberalism. With the extra resources from the net tax increase, the plan proposes throwing money at so-called “infrastructure projects,” which comes right out of the 2009 Obama stimulus playbook.

As you can see, Ryan is not a fan of what Curbelo is proposing, which is a version of Option #5.

And Ryan also doesn’t want to enrich and empower the swamp.

While the bill by statute includes coal, petroleum, and natural gas, the EPA administrator is also given free rein to expand this carbon taxable list of industries at will. Imagine what an Obama administration would have done with that kind of power. …the Curbelo carbon tax also creates a United Nations NGO-style “National Climate Commission.” If that doesn’t sound scary enough, it also empowers this commission with an unlimited authorization to procure the services of “experts and consultants.” This section of the bill might as well be called the “DC swamp deep state full employment act.” How many of these taxpayer-funded “consultants” would an Obama-like administration use to enforce left-wing policies on the rest of us?

This is a long column, so let me conclude by noting that my opposition to a new tax has nothing to do with partisan politics. I’ve criticized Republicans for backing a carbon tax and I’ve also skewered Democrats for supporting that levy.

Heck, I’ve even gone after self-styled libertarians who advocate for this new tax. Especially when they pull a bait and switch, claiming initially that the revenue from a carbon tax could be used to lower other taxes, but then later admitting that they’re willing to acquiesce to a huge net tax increase.

Which confirms all my fears that a carbon tax would wind up being a gusher of money that would trigger an orgy of new spending in Washington.

P.S. I hope nobody will be surprised to learn that both the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development support higher energy taxes for the United States.

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It’s time to make a very serious point, albeit with a bit of humor and sarcasm.

A couple of years ago, I shared an image of Libertarian Jesus to make the point that it’s absurd to equate compassion and virtue with government-coerced redistribution.

We all can agree – at least I hope – that it is admirable to help the less fortunate with our own time and/or money. Indeed, I’m proud that Americans are much more likely to be genuinely generous than people from other countries (and it’s also worth noting that people from conservative states are more generous than people from leftist states).

But some of our statist friends go awry when they think it’s also noble and selfless to support higher tax rates and bigger government. How is it compassionate, I ask them, to forcibly give away someone else’s money? Especially when those policies actually undermine progress in the fight against poverty!

With this in mind, here’s another great example of Libertarian Jesus (h/t: Reddit).

Amen (pun intended), I’m going to add this to my collection of libertarian humor.

But don’t overlook the serious part of the message. As Cal Thomas succinctly explained, it’s hardly a display of religious devotion when you use coercion to spend other people’s money.

This is why I’ve been critical of Pope Francis. His heart may be in the right place, but he’s misguided about the policies that actually help the less fortunate.

For what it’s worth, it would be helpful if he was guided by the moral wisdom of Walter Williams rather than the destructive statism of Juan Peron.

P.S. I’m rather amused that socialists, when looking for Christmas-themed heroes, could only identify people who practice non-coercive generosity.

P.P.S. On a separate topic, Al Gore blames climate change for Brexit.

Brexit was caused in part by climate change, former US Vice-President Al Gore has said, warning that extreme weather is creating political instability “the world will find extremely difficult to deal with”.

I’m beginning to lose track and get confused. Our statist friends have told us that climate change causes AIDS and terrorism, which are bad things. But now they’re telling us climate change caused Brexit, which is a good thing.

Maybe the real lesson is that Al Gore and his friends are crackpots.

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I don’t have strong views on global warming. Or climate change, or whatever it’s being called today.

But I’ve generally been skeptical about government action for the simple reason that the people making the most noise are statists who would use any excuse to increase the size and power of government. To be blunt, I simply don’t trust them. In Washington, they’re called watermelons – green on the outside (identifying as environmentalists) but red on the inside (pushing a statist agenda).

But there are some sensible people who think some sort of government involvement is necessary and appropriate.

George Schultz and James Baker, two former Secretaries of State, argue for a new carbon tax in a Wall Street Journal column as part of an agenda that also makes changes to regulation and government spending.

…there is mounting evidence of problems with the atmosphere that are growing too compelling to ignore. …The responsible and conservative response should be to take out an insurance policy. Doing so need not rely on heavy-handed, growth-inhibiting government regulations. Instead, a climate solution should be based on a sound economic analysis that embodies the conservative principles of free markets and limited government. We suggest…creating a gradually increasing carbon tax…, returning the tax proceeds to the American people in the form of dividends. And…rolling back government regulations once such a system is in place.

A multi-author column in the New York Times, including Professors Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein from Harvard, also puts for the argument for this plan.

On-again-off-again regulation is a poor way to protect the environment. And by creating needless uncertainty for businesses that are planning long-term capital investments, it is also a poor way to promote robust economic growth. By contrast, an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working-class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change. …Our plan is…the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints. …the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments. …regulations made unnecessary by the carbon tax would be eliminated, including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

They perceive this plan as being very popular.

Environmentalists should like the long-overdue commitment to carbon pricing. Growth advocates should embrace the reduced regulation and increased policy certainty, which would encourage long-term investments, especially in clean technologies. Libertarians should applaud a plan premised on getting the incentives right and government out of the way.

I hate to be the skunk at the party, but I’m a libertarian and I’m not applauding. I explain some of my concerns about the general concept in this interview.

In the plus column, there would be a tax cut and a regulatory rollback. In the minus column, there would be a new tax. So two good ideas and one bad idea, right? Sounds like a good deal in theory, even if you can’t trust politicians in the real world.

However, the plan that’s being promoted by Schultz, Baker, Feldstein, Mankiw, etc, doesn’t have two good ideas and one bad idea. They have the good regulatory reduction and the bad carbon tax, but instead of using the revenue to finance a good tax cut such as eliminating the capital gains tax or getting rid of the corporate income tax, they want to create universal handouts.

They want us to believe that this money, starting at $2,000 for a family of four, would be akin to some sort of tax rebate.

That’s utter nonsense, if not outright prevarication. This is a new redistribution program. Sort of like the “basic income” scheme being promoted by some folks.

And it creates a very worrisome dynamic since people will have an incentive to support ever-higher carbon taxes in order to get ever-larger checks from the government. Heck, the plan being pushed explicitly envisions such an outcome.

I’ve made the economic argument against carbon taxes and the cronyism argument against carbon taxes. Now that we have a real-world proposal, we have the practical argument against carbon taxes.

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Whether they call it global warming or climate change, activists on the left are acting as if the issue is just an excuse to extort money and expand the power of government.

  • In Part I, I wrote about kleptocrats exploiting the issue to shake down western governments for enormous amounts of aid money.
  • In Part II, I noted how then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, using tens of billions of dollars from American taxpayers, wanted to bribe third-world governments into adopting anti-energy measures
  • In Part III, I explained how the Kyoto Protocol encourages the destruction of jobs in western nations.

Let’s now a fourth installment on how climate change is a racket.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a legal scam concocted by left-wing activists to extort money from Exxon.

A key meeting in the new push unfolded in January behind closed doors… The session brought together about a dozen people, including Kenny Bruno, a veteran of environmental campaigns, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, two activists who helped lead the successful fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline. The new campaign’s goals include “to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm,” according to an agenda of the meeting… This new legal strategy stems in part from environmentalists’ frustration at what they see as the inadequacy of recent climate deals. Their hope is to encourage state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department to launch investigations and lawsuits that ultimately will change Exxon’s behavior, force it to pay big damages.

And the scam paid off, at least in the sense that a bunch of Democratic Attorneys General have launched a legal attack on the company.

In an article for the Daily Signal, Hans von Spakovsky explores the implications.

…we now have a new inquisition underway in America in the 21st century—something that would have seemed unimaginable not too long ago. Treating climate change as an absolute, unassailable fact, instead of what it is—an unproven, controversial scientific theory—a group of state attorneys general have announced that they will be targeting any companies that challenge the catastrophic climate change religion. …The inquisitors are threatening legal action and huge fines against anyone who declines to believe in an unproven scientific theory. Schneiderman and Kamala Harris, representing New York and California, respectively, have already launched investigations into ExxonMobil for allegedly funding research that questioned climate change.

By the way, one amusing and ironic aspect of this attempted shakedown is that some of the left-wing activists are asserting that scientists for the energy companies are smarter than the ones mooching from the government.

Writing for National Review, Rupert Darwall explains.

Was ExxonMobil better at climate science than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? This is the bizarre position now being adopted by climate activists such as Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes and 350.org’s Bill McKibben. As early as 1977, Exxon researchers “knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously,” McKibben claimed in the New Yorker last month. …Had Exxon been up-front about the dangers of global warming, we might have started to decarbonize decades ago, Oreskes argues. Instead, Exxon had behaved like tobacco companies who had “long delayed” public understanding by suppressing the truth about the deadly nature of their products.

But there’s one teensy-weensy problem with the tobacco company/oil company analogy.

Scientists were able to prove the threat to health from smoking because there is a very strong statistical relationship between smoking and lung cancer. The strength of those initial findings was further validated by passing a tough predictive test. In 1953, Richard Doll, one of the first researchers to have found the link, predicted that in 1973 there would be 25,000 lung-cancer deaths in Britain. In fact, there were 26,000. By contrast, climate models have been systematically over-forecasting temperature rises this century, demonstrating that climate scientists know much less about the climate system than they would have us believe.

Needless to say, if the models are wrong about the weather we’ve already had, why should we believe their future predictions?

And the climate alarmists certainly have a long track record of flawed pronouncements.

And suppression of inconvenient data.

By the way, just in case these legal scams don’t work, some statists want to take the threats to the next level.

In a modern-day version of the Church imprisoning Galileo, the self-styled Science Guy apparently doesn’t think much of open and honest inquiry. Here are some passages from a report in the Washington Times about Bill Nye refusing to reject jail time for skeptics.

Bill Nye “the science guy” says in a video interview released Thursday that he is open to the idea of jailing those who deviate from the climate change consensus. …“In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen,” Mr. Nye said. “So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

Local governments also are joining the campaign.

Fox News reports that the City of Portland wants to censor dissenting views on global warming.

The Portland Public Schools board voted last week to ban any materials that cast doubt on climate change, the Portland Tribune reported. According to the resolution passed May 17, the school district must remove any textbooks and other materials that suggest climate change is not occurring or that says human beings are not responsible for it. …One commenter to the Portland Tribune story responded to the news, saying, “I have never seen a case for homeschooling more clearly put forward. This is further proof that public schools are not interested in education, only political indoctrination.”

Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration is intrigued anti-science shakedown. Though at least there’s some resistance from Capitol Hill, as reported by the Washington Examiner.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch must drop all efforts to prosecute climate change skeptics or risk engaging in “prosecutorial misconduct,” a group of Senate Judiciary Committee members warned. “As you well know, initiating criminal prosecution for a private entity’s opinions on climate change is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and an abuse of power that rises to the level of prosecutorial misconduct,” five lawmakers wrote to Lynch on Wednesday. …In March, Lynch told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that the FBI was considering whether it was possible to prosecute companies or groups that promoted climate change skepticism.

By the way, the fact that some leftists want to stifle dissent and redistribute money doesn’t mean global warming/climate change doesn’t exist.

Heck the climate never stops changing. And it may now be changing in part because of human actions.

That being said, I’m sure the right approach for dealing with climate change shouldn’t include central planning and other forms of statism.

I have a hard time accepting the policy prescriptions of people who are nutjobs.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, consider these examples.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

So it’s understandable why sensible people reject the agenda of radical environmentalists, even if there is some man-caused global warming.

P.S. To close on an upbeat note, we have some decent environmentalist humor here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. On a more serious note, other governments also have moved to criminalize dissent.

P.P.P.S. According to the political betting markets, the most likely V.P. candidate for Trump has a very shaky history on the topic of climate alarmism.

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What do left-wing firebrand Congressman Alan Grayson, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Obama’s top trade negotiator Michael Froman, liberal financier Donald Sussman, and big-money Democratic donor Tom Steyer. all have in common?

The answer is that they all engage in tax avoidance and tax planning by utilizing tax havens. Like many other Democrats (and Democrat donors), they understand it would be very foolish to deliberately pay more tax than is required.

Yet they all want the rest of us to pay higher taxes!

And now we can add Secretary of State John Kerry to our list of tax haven hypocrites.

Here’s some of what we know from, the Daily Caller‘s exposé.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz have invested millions of U.S. dollars through family trusts in at least 11 offshore tax havens, according to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group. …Two other trusts appear to have been set up by the Heinz family since Kerry was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013 to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. …that doesn’t sit well with some who would normally be supportive of Kerry. “Well I say it doesn’t look good by any means,” said Susan Harley, deputy director of Congress Watch, a progressive lobby organization founded by Ralph Nader.

Actually, since the only “tax havens” listed are the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, and the British Virgin Islands, it appears that the story should have stated 11 trust investments in tax havens, not trust investments in 11 tax havens.

But I’m nitpicking. As you can see, the Kerry family makes wide use of structures in these low-tax jurisdictions.

Utilizing Cayman-based structures is a sensible choice for the Kerry family, by the way.

Just like it is perfectly appropriate for people to use Panama-organized structures when engaging in international business and investment.

The only reason this is even a story because John Kerry is a left-wing hypocrite who wants everyone else to pay high taxes, but he conveniently arranges his affairs so his family’s money is protected.

Heck, he even moored his yacht in Rhode Island to dodge several hundred thousand dollars of tax that otherwise would have been owed to the state of Massachusetts.

Once again, this was a perfectly reasonable choice. But it’s a bit galling that a wealthy statist like Kerry takes these steps while simultaneously supporting ever-higher tax burdens on those of us who weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths.

And since we’re on the topic of leftist hypocrites and tax havens, it turns out that the crank who pushed for big government and high taxes when he was Greece’s Finance Minister also seems to like the “offshore” world for his own money.

Here are some blurbs from a story in the U.K.-based Times.

He describes himself as a Marxist libertarian but a lifestyle of glamorous photo-shoots, evenings in chic bars and weekends in luxurious island villas may have convinced the man who brought Greece to the verge of bankruptcy to become a highly-paid capitalist. Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, is allegedly charging almost £40,000 for speeches he is invited to make worldwide, seeking payment via an HSBC bank account in Oman, according to reports.

Just like with Kerry, there’s nothing wrong or illegal in Varoufakis’ actions. Giving speeches for money and keeping money in another jurisdiction are perfectly legitimate behaviors.

Heck, given the Greek government’s rampant corruption and wasteful habits, I think it’s defensible for people to go one step farther and evade as well as avoid.

But not for Varoufakis. When an advocate of class warfare decides he doesn’t want to live under the rules he would like to impose on the rest of us, he’s simply being a hypocrite and is undeserving of any sympathy.

Not to mention that anyone who think that you can be a Marxist and a libertarian at the same time obviously is a blithering nincompoop.

Let’s shift to another issue for our final glaring example of left-wing hypocrisy. Writing for USA Today, Professor Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee is irked by statists with very big carbon footprints who attend ritzy conferences to concoct plans to impose hardship on the rest of us.

…opulent conferences seem to be our political class’s response to pretty much everything, but they do ring hollow when the topic is what sort of sacrifices should be imposed on the rest of us. …Perhaps people aren’t inclined to treat climate change as a crisis because, despite all the talk, the political class itself isn’t acting as if it’s a crisis. Shouldn’t “shared sacrifice” start at the top?

Glenn has a few modest ideas to resolve this problem of inequity.

First, no more jetting around. Congress should provide that no federal money — either at agencies or at institutions receiving federal funds — should pay for travel to attend conferences or meetings. …Second, to set an example, no air conditioning in federal offices. Sure, it’s uncomfortable without it, but we won World War II with mostly un-air conditioned offices, so we can manage without A/C today. …Third, no more fundraising jaunts on Air Force One. Typically, presidents schedule a fundraiser, then find an elementary school or something to tour in the same town to make the trip “official business.” Congress should provide that no fundraising appearances can be made on any presidential trip charged to the taxpayers. …Fourth, no more UN conferences except online.

Those are all good ideas, but we also need some rules to help other hypocrites (like Leonardo DiCaprio and Prince Charles) practice what they preach.

P.S. In addition to being hypocrites, many leftists also have bad judgement about tyrannical regimes. I wrote last year about Paul Samuelson’s misguided endorsement of the Soviet economic system just as it was about to collapse.

Well, another well-know left-wing economist actually wrote an article to praise the “Korean Miracle.” But Joan Robinson was writing about North Korea rather than South Korea!

It’s true that she didn’t have this evidence available when she was gushing about the Pyongyang being a “city without slums,” but it’s still remarkable that she went out of her way to praise a totalitarian dictatorship.

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I’ve admitted before that I have no idea whether global warming is a real problem, but I can say with considerable certainty that there are two reasons why I’m very skeptical of the environmental policy agenda.

First, the serious environmentalists believe in central planning and other forms of statism.

Second, radical environmentalists are nutjobs.

In case you think I’m exaggerating on the second point, consider these examples.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

Now let’s look at a new development in the field of global warming (or climate change, or whatever term is now being used).

The Washington Examiner opines on the bizarre tendency on the left to say that weather causes terrorism (I’ll let readers judge whether this belongs in the “serious” category or “nutjob” category).

President Obama said ahead of the event that began this week. “What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be, when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children.” One could hardly blame the leadership of the Islamic State if they had a hearty laugh at this peculiar response to its attacks on Paris last month. The same could be said about the multiple instances in which Obama and high-ranking members of his administration have asserted that climate change poses a greater national security threat than terrorism… The new fad of blaming climate change for terrorism, or treating the two as comparable security issues, is troubling. …Bernie Sanders’ recent assertion in a presidential debate, that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism,” was not an aberration, but increasingly a part of left-wing orthodoxy in the U.S.

The Examiner then points out the obvious. Or at least something that should be obvious.

Terrorism is not caused by the weather. …terrorism is caused mostly by radical Islamist ideology. There are appropriate law enforcement, intelligence, propaganda and occasionally military responses to it. But when you hear politicians talk about global warming as the cause of terrorism, take it as an indication that they aren’t serious people, and should not be trusted with complex affairs of state.

By the way, our friends on the left can’t even get their stories straight. While President Obama and others are asserting or implying that terrorism is related to climate change, other prominent statists say terrorism is caused by inequality.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist who is infamous for a theory rejected by the vast majority of economists and a tax plan that would cripple the economy and impose harsh misery on poor people, has now decided to pontificate on inequality and terrorism. Here’s some of what’s being reported by Business Insider.

The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality. …concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.” …Those economic conditions, he says, have become justifications for jihadists… Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, Piketty continues, is best combated economically.

To be fair, there probably is a bit of truth to the notion that young men in the Middle East are susceptible to radical ideologies in part because of economic reasons. They may live in oil-rich countries, but there is very little opportunity because of corrupt statism.

And it’s never good for a society to have young men with lots of free time and very little hope.

But the problem in these nations (above and beyond radical strains of Islam) is that bad government policy cripples opportunity. The resulting inequality (remember, the people connected to government are rich) is largely a consequence of the statism.

So the notion bigger government will make things better is rather naive, to say the least.

Though statist policies will mean less growth, and a smaller economy means a smaller carbon footprint, so maybe our friends on the left actually do have a coherent strategy. Simply make everyone poor. That ways there’s less carbon and less inequality!

Though don’t think for even a nanosecond that Obama, Piketty, and the rest of the elite will suffer. After all, leftists are grotesque hypocrites on environmental issues, as you can see here and here.

And don’t delude yourself into thinking that any of the left’s policies will reduce terrorism either.

P.S. But to close on an upbeat note, we have some decent environmentalist humor here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. And if you prefer terrorism humor, click here, herehere, and (at the end of the posts) here and here.

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I’m a firm believer in climate change. Heck, there have been several ice ages and warming periods, so it’s obvious that temperatures shift over time.

And while I’m not particularly qualified to assess such matters, I’m also willing to believe that human activity has an effect on climate.

Moreover, even though I much prefer warm weather, I’m also open to the idea that global warming might be a bad thing that requires some action.

But here’s the catch. I don’t trust radical environmentalists. Simply stated, too many of these people are nuts.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

But you know what’s even worse than a nutty environmentalist?

What terrifies me far more are the very serious, very connected, and very powerful non-nutty environmentalists who hold positions of real power. These folks are filled with arrogance and hubris and they have immense power to cause damage.

If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s some of what was contained in a release from the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe.

By the way, remember that these excerpts are not the unhinged speculation of some crazy conservative or libertarian. These are actually the words – and stated intentions – of the U.N. bureaucracy. They want central planning on steroids.

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UNFCCC,  warns that the fight against climate change is a process and that the necessary transformation of the world economy will not be decided at one conference or in one agreement. …”This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution. That will not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change, be it COP 15, 21, 40 – you choose the number. It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

Wow. These people want to “intentionally…change the economic development model” that has produced unimagined prosperity.

And they want to replace it with central planning by people who have never demonstrated any ability to generate wealth.

I’m not joking. If you look at Ms. Figueres’ Wikipedia page, you’ll see that she has even less experience in the private sector than President Obama.

Yup, just exactly the kind of pampered (and tax-free) global bureaucrat who should have the power to treat the global economy as some sort of Lego set.

Thomas Sowell has made the very important observation that there’s a giant difference between intelligence and wisdom and Ms. Figueres is a perfect example.

To give you an idea of her cloistered and narrow mindset, she was quoted by Bloomberg as expressing admiration for China’s totalitarian regime over America’s democratic system merely because it ostensibly produces the policies she prefers.

China, the top emitter of greenhouse gases, is also the country that’s “doing it right” when it comes to addressing global warming, the United Nations’ chief climate official said. …China is also able to implement policies because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the U.S., Figueres said. …The political divide in the U.S. Congress has slowed efforts to pass climate legislation and is “very detrimental” to the fight against global warming, she said.

And the icing on the cake, needless to say, is that China’s environment is a catastrophe compared to the much cleaner air and water that exist in the United States!

Though you won’t be surprised to learn that Ms. Figueres is a great admirer of President Obama, even if he does represent a backwards democracy.

The climate chief even held up President Obama as a shining example of steps countries can take to tackle global warming.

Reminds me of a saying about birds of a feather, though I’m not sure how a bird with two left wings can get off the ground.

And don’t even get me started on all the exaggeration and hyperbole that is generated by the radical environmentalists. Though this Jim McKee cartoon is too good not to share.

P.S. Environmentalists are also grotesque hypocrites, as you can see here and here.

P.P.S. But to close on an upbeat note, we have some decent environmental humor here, here, here, and here.

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Everyone, it seems, is worried about global economic stagnation.

And there is good reason to be concerned. Europe is in the doldrums. Japan is stagnant. The developing world is hampered by intervention, corruption, and absence of property rights. And the United States is stumbling through an abnormally weak recovery.

But what’s the solution to this economic malaise?

The international economic policymaking elite seems to think easy money is the right elixir. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is underwhelmed by this approach.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced a plan to buy what amounts to €50 billion ($56.84 billion) a month in government bonds and other assets at least through September 2016 on top of the €10 billion the ECB already was buying through various programs. …This QE program is more a political than economic triumph. …someone has to point out—since the QE cheering section among the political and investor classes won’t—that Mr. Draghi himself warned in his press conference Thursday that quantitative easing by itself won’t revive stalling eurozone economies… Reforms that would displace entrenched interests, whether domestic businesses or unions, are hard for politicians to enact, while demanding easier money from the central bank is easy.

Unfortunately, the ECB’s easy-money policy will probably give politicians in national capitals further leeway to avoid real reforms.

Politicians should now get serious about reforms on the theory that the central bank has done what they want. Smaller, sicker European economies have no more monetary excuses for their failure to reform. Or at least we can dream. The likelier outcome is that to the extent quantitative easing drives down bond yields, it will reduce market pressure for reforms until another economic crisis or deflationary blip spurs calls for a QE expansion.

Even folks that lean more to the left don’t think dumping more money into the economy will solve underlying problems.

Here are some excerpts from a David Ignatius column in the Washington Post.

A sign of the concern among business and political leaders here about sluggish economic growth is that one of the World Economic Forum sessions this week was titled “Avoiding a Centennial Slump” — meaning a downturn that lasts a hundred years. …The European Central Bank did the equivalent of pushing the panic button Thursday, announcing a bond-buying program of 1.1 trillion euros meant to lower interest rates and encourage investment. …But rates are already rock-bottom, and although the ECB’s “quantitative easing,” as it’s known, will flood Europe with cash, there’s no guarantee that it will be used to cure the region’s structural impediments to growth. Indeed, persistent low rates are one of the attributes of a deflationary economy, rather than a cure.

I largely disagree with the policies that Ignatius then proposes, but at least we generally agree that the European economy isn’t in the dumps because of inadequate liquidity.

The problem isn’t just in Europe. Like the ECB, the Federal Reserve also has tried to goose growth with easy-money policies.

But that’s like pushing on a string. Maybe there are times that the financial system needs more liquidity, but folks shouldn’t labor under the impression that printing more money solves the structural problems caused by too much spending, too high taxes, and too onerous levels of regulation.

And it’s quite possible, of course, that easy-money policies actually undermine long-run prosperity by creating bubbles.

Though as this Chip Bok cartoon illustrates, Wall Street enjoys bubbles, at least when they’re expanding.

P.S. Since I cited a Washington Post columnist who’s attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this is a good opportunity to share some excerpts from a column Dan Hannan wrote for CapX.

As you can see, he’s not a big fan.

Davos is a place where powerful people pick up consultancies and directorships and international posts. Left-wingers rightly resent this. What they see, in Marxist terms, is a gang of rentiers coming together to devise new means to live off the sweat of the workers. …Yet, when it comes to free markets, Davos Man is often on the same side as the Lefties. He derives most of his income, directly or indirectly, from state patronage. If he is in the private sector – and he is more likely to be a lobbyist, politician or bureaucrat than a businessman – he’ll be an instinctive monopolist, keen to persuade ministers and officials to raise barriers against his potential rivals.

Since I’ve never been to one of these meetings and have never perused an attendance list, I don’t know if Hannan is being overly dour.

But I do worry that folks who are already rich and powerful are probably more focused on maintaining the status quo than on needed reforms.

As such, they’re susceptible to wanting to manage the economy rather than allow unfettered markets.

All right, you say, but surely it’s useful for powerful people to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s mistakes. Well, yes; but this lot rarely seem to learn. Whatever the problem, their preferred solution is always to establish a global bureaucracy staffed by people like themselves. Obviously, they don’t put it like that. “The stability of the global economy” is a much prettier phrase than “a juicy public sector post for me”. It’s like an Ayn Rand novel, where lobbyists reach cosy arrangements with each other in elliptical language. Remember the way she described members of a company board? “Men whose careers depended on keeping their faces bland, their remarks inconclusive and their clothes immaculate”. That’s Davos.

There’s also a bit of hypocrisy at Davos.

One of the big agenda items is the supposed horror of climate change.

So you would think participants would be taking every possible step to reduce their carbon footprints, right?

But according to CNN, not so much.

Look to the skies this week in Switzerland and you’ll see the heavens are cluttered with private jets. Billionaires and world leaders from across the globe are flying en masse to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — and they insist on traveling in style. Roughly 1,700 private flights are expected over the course of the week.

The problem isn’t that some rich people use private jets. But if they fly in luxury and then pontificate on how the rest of us should accept lower living standards, they open themselves to some well-deserved abuse.

Speaking of Davos, climate change, and hypocrisy, here’s a perfect example of an empty poseur.

Al Gore is teaming up with rapper and producer Pharrell Williams to promote ‘climate change’ awareness through a series of concerts called “Live Earth,” which will take place on June 18th across six continents. The concerts will help “build support for a U.N. climate pact in Paris among more than 190 nations in December,” ABC reports. The announcement was made at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday where Pharrell said he wants “to have a billion voices with one message–to demand climate action now.”

Sounds noble, right? But Mr. Williams isn’t exactly the poster child for energy asceticism.

…when he’s not fighting to decrease your carbon footprint, Pharrell is flying across the planet on his private jet, sailing the seas on fossil fuel-burning yachts, and driving around in his pollution pumping luxury cars. …Pharrell owns a Mercedes-Benz SLR, which gets about 12 miles to the gallon. He has a McLaren Roadster, which gets him about 13 miles per gallon. Pharrell also owns a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Porsche Spyder 550, which both get about 10 and 20 miles per gallon.

Hmmmm…, sounds like another multi-millionaire hypocrite from the entertainment industry.

P.S. Returning to the issue of monetary policy, don’t forget that there are very strong arguments for getting governments out of the business of money.

P.P.S. And on the issue of boosting growth, there’s no substitute for free markets and limited government.

P.P.P.S. Yet most European nations are traveling in the opposite direction. Even more absurd, Obama wants to copy their failures, as captured by these cartoons from Michael Ramirez, Glenn Foden, Eric Allie and Chip Bok.

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Because of the need to control the size and scope of government, it’s critically important to reject all tax hikes. Simply stated, once politicians think there’s a possibility of more revenue coming to DC, any commitment to spending restraint and entitlement reform will quickly evaporate.

It’s especially important not to let politicians get new sources of revenue. That’s why, for instance, the value-added tax would be a terrible idea. Politicians might promise to use the revenue to lower or eliminate other taxes, but the European evidence shows that the long-run impact is to finance a much larger burden of government spending.

And you also get more red ink, for what it’s worth.

It also would be a bad idea to give politicians a big, new energy tax. They’ve been salivating for something like this ever since Bill Clinton unsuccessfully proposed a BTU tax back in 1993.

But like other bad ideas (i.e., Keynesian economics), the notion of a national energy tax refuses to die.

President Obama’s former Chief Economist (as well as a Treasury Secretary for Bill Clinton) wants an energy tax imposed on America. Here is some of what Larry Summers wrote for the Washington Post.

With the recent steep fall in oil prices and associated declines in other energy prices…there should be no doubt that, given the current zero tax rate on carbon, increased taxation would be desirable. …While the recent decline in energy prices is a good thing in that it has, on balance, raised the incomes of Americans, it has also exacerbated the problem of energy overuse. The benefit of imposing carbon taxes is therefore enhanced.

In other words, he wants government to benefit from falling energy prices, not consumers.

And he also wants tax harmonization as part of an ideological crusade on global warming.

A U.S. carbon tax would contribute to efforts to combat climate change in other ways. It would be a hugely important symbolic step ahead of the global climate summit in Paris late this year. It would shift the debate toward harmonized measures to raise the price of carbon use.

You also won’t be surprised to learn that Summers wants a big tax.

What size levy is appropriate? Here there is more danger of doing too little than too much. Once the principle of taxation is accepted, its level can be adjusted. A tax of $25 a ton would raise more than $100 billion each year and seems a reasonable starting point.

A $100 billion tax is a “reasonable starting point”?!? I’m afraid to ask him for his definition of a “reasonable concluding point.” Probably with government consuming all the nation’s output.

But you have to give Summers credit for honesty. Most politicians would pretend that a new tax would be used for deficit reduction. But Summers is honest enough to say the money would be used to finance a new spending spree by Washington.

How should the proceeds be used? …An additional $50 billion a year in infrastructure spending would be a significant contribution to closing America’s investment gap in that area. The same sum devoted to pro-work tax credits could finance a huge increase in the earned-income tax credit, a meaningful reduction in the payroll tax or some combination of the two.

Gee, what wonderful ideas. More pork-barrel spending out of Washington and more income redistribution laundered through the tax code with the EITC.

I talked with Neil Cavuto about the merits (and lack thereof) of this proposed energy tax.

To elaborate on the interview, the left understands very well that their spending agenda requires more revenue. That’s why Obama is relentless in urging more revenue. It’s why the leftists at the Paris-based OECD endlessly urge higher taxes in America (even to the point of arguing that tax-financed redistribution is somehow good for growth). And it’s why the DC establishment is so enamored with “bipartisan” tax-hiking budget deals, which inevitably lead to bigger government and more debt.

Honoring the no-tax-hike pledge isn’t a sufficient condition to rein in big government, but it sure is a necessary condition.

Amazingly, top Democrats even admit that their top political goal is to seduce Republicans into supporting higher taxes, yet some GOPers seem willing to walk into this trap.

No wonder Republicans are sometimes known as the Stupid Party (as cleverly illustrated by Michael Ramirez).

P.S. Here’s an excellent video outlining seven reasons to oppose higher taxes.

P.P.S. The bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund have proposed a massive energy tax on American consumers (in addition to all the other tax hikes advocated by that international bureaucracy).

P.P.P.S. An energy tax would be a levy on consumption, which is less destructive than higher income tax rates and more double taxation. But just as I wrote about the value-added tax, the issue isn’t whether we replace a horrible tax with a less-horrible tax. The debate is whether we add a less-horrible tax on top of the current horrible system.

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I believe that protecting the environment is both a good thing and a legitimate function of government.

But I’m rational. So while I want limits on pollution, such policies should be determined by cost-benefit analysis.

Banning automobiles doubtlessly would reduce pollution, for instance, but the economic cost would be catastrophic.

On the other hand, it’s good to limit carcinogens from being dumped in the air and water. So long as there’s some unbiased science showing net benefits.

But while I’m pro-environment, I’m anti-environmentalist. Simply stated, too many of these people are nuts.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

But since I’m an economist, what really worries me is that these people are statists. There’s an old joke that environmentalists are “watermelons” since they’re green on the outside and red on the inside.

But maybe it’s not really a joke. At least not in all cases. Check out this video from Reason, filmed at the so-called climate march in New York City.

Just in case you think the folks at Reason deliberately sought out a few crazy people in an otherwise rational crowd, let’s now look at the views of Naomi Klein, who is ostensibly a big thinker for the left on environmental issues.

Slate published an interview with her and you can judge for yourself whether her views are sensible. Here’s some of what Slate said about her.

According to social activist and perennial agitator Naomi Klein, the really inconvenient truth about climate change is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. …she’s turned her argument into a hefty book… This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is focused on exposing how the relentless pursuit of growth has locked us in to a system that’s incompatible with a stable climate. …

And here’s some of what Ms. Klein said.

The post-carbon economy we can build will have to be better designed. …not only does climate action mean a healthy community—it’s also the best chance at tacking inequality. …The divestment movement is a start at challenging the excesses of capitalism. It’s working to delegitimize fossil fuels, and showing that they’re just as unethical as profits from the tobacco industry. …profits are not legitimate in an era of climate change.

Profits are not legitimate?!? Geesh, sounds like a certain President who also disdains profit.

By the way, I’d bet Naomi Klein has a far bigger “carbon footprint” than the average person.

And I can say with great certainty that other leftists are huge hypocrites on the issue. Check out the vapid actor who did some moral preening at the climate-change march.

Kudos to Ms. Fields. She has a way of exposing phonies on camera.

Though I think it’s safe to say that Mr. DiCaprio doesn’t win the prize for being the biggest environmental hypocrite.

Shifting back to policy issues, even “mainstream” environmental initiatives are often very misguided. Here are a few examples.

The bottom line is that we presumably have some environmental challenges. For instance, it’s quite possible that there is some global warming caused by mankind.

I just don’t trust environmentalists to make policy. When they’re in charge, we get really dumb policies. Or grotesque examples of government thuggery. Or sleazy corruption and cronyism.

But at least we have some decent environmental humor here, here, here, and here.

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I thought conservatives were the ones with an unseemly fixation on sex. They’re supposed to be the Puritans who, in the words of Mencken, have a “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Maybe that’s true in a few cases, but it also appears that some leftists also are bizarrely focused on sex. Only instead of worrying that someone may be having fun, they concoct novel claims that a statist agenda is necessary to stop prostitution.

Just the other day, for instance, some lawmakers actually asserted that “climate change” would force more women to become prostitutes.

Several House Democrats are calling on Congress to recognize that climate change is hurting women more than men, and could even drive poor women to “transactional sex” for survival. …Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and a dozen other Democrats, says the results of climate change include drought and reduced agricultural output. It says these changes can be particularly harmful for women. “[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex.

Though these American politicians are behind the times. A Filipino bureaucrat at the United Nations proposed this laughable theory as early as 2009.

While the link between climate change and “transactional sex” is a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly, it’s not the only area where leftists make bizarre and unsubstantiated assertions about stopping prostitution with a statist agenda.

I thought I had dealt with every imaginable silly argument against tax havens, but I didn’t give my leftist friends enough credit. It seems that low-tax jurisdictions somehow facilitate sex slavery.

While battles over government budget deficits dominate the media coverage, tax havens pose a much bigger problem. They facilitate bribery, they enable sex slavery, and they foster terrorism. As Sachs notes, “the havens serve countless purposes, yet not one is for the social good.”

Not surprisingly, there’s not a single piece of evidence to support any of the assertions in this excerpt. We’re just supposed to believe that financial privacy laws enable bad things because of money laundering.

Yet actual real-world evidence – as opposed to ideologically motivated assertions – shows that tax havens are not money-laundering centers. Indeed, they generally have stronger laws against dirty money than “onshore” jurisdictions.

P.S. So why do leftists have this quirky fixation about prostitutes and public policy? Do they go to left-wing conferences and hear stories from Dominique Strauss-Kahn , the infamous former head of the IMF. Or do they get briefings from my one-time debating opponent Elliot Spitzer, who also was disgraced because of “transactional sex”?

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If asked to name my least-favorite international bureaucracy, the easy answer would be the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

After all, it was only a few days ago that I outlined different ways that the Paris-based bureaucracy is seeking to expand statism and reduce freedom around the world.

Our tax money at the OECD, UN, and IMF

I’m particularly nauseated by the OECD’s support for value-added taxes and their ridiculous assertion that poverty is higher in America than Greece or Turkey.

But we can’t forget the United Nations, which pushes a plethora of bad policies, including a push for regulatory control over the Internet, support for global taxation, supranational gun control schemes, attacks on sovereignty of American states, and support for a “right” to taxpayer-financed birth control (though at least they had the good sense to invite me to speak at last year’s “High Level Thematic Debate on the State of the World Economy”).

For today, though, my least favorite bureaucracy is the International Monetary Fund. I recently listed many of the ways that this gold-plated institution of over-paid and un-taxed paper pushers supports bigger government, but this story from today’s Washington Post is the icing on the cake of statism.

The report on a new IMF study started on a very positive note.

Government subsidies of gasoline, electricity and other energy sources amount to about $1.9 trillion a year and should be ended.

I’m against subsidies, so what’s not to like about a proposal to end handouts?

Well, it turns out that the IMF has a very strange way of defining subsidies. For logical people, a subsidy occurs when the government takes money from Person A and gives it to Person B.

In the la-la land of the IMF, however, a “subsidy” occurs if the government doesn’t tax as much from Person A as the bureaucrats would like. I’m not joking.

In the developed world, the IMF says the subsidies are even larger but less overt, reflecting that government tax policies do not capture the costs of pollution and other externalities. Using economic models and other studies performed as part of the larger global warming debate, the IMF puts those indirect subsidies at $1.4 trillion — $25 for each ton of carbon dioxide produced — and suggests they be offset through an “efficient” tax that makes energy users pay the full cost of the product.

To be fair, private behavior can impose costs on other people (“externalities”), so there’s nothing automatically wrong with looking at these indirect costs.

The problem is that the IMF used discredited global warming ideology to concoct an absurd $1.4 trillion estimate of “subsidies.”

IMF Stick UpAnd guess what that means?

For the United States, the IMF estimated that would require a $1.40 levy per gallon of gas and other fees totaling more than $1,400 per person each year — around $500 billion in total.

Wow, that’s more than $5,500 for a family of four.

Remember that these bureaucrats get extremely generous tax-free salaries, yet they apparently don’t see any hypocrisy in recommending huge tax increases for the peasantry.

“It is time for subsidies to end and carbon taxation to be put in place,” IMF First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton said in an interview Tuesday.

Amazing. I’m sure this leech is driven around in a private limousine, flies around the world in first class, and enjoys the services of the private chefs in the IMF’s elite dining room – all at our expense. Yet he wants the rest of us to pay higher tax.

P.S. You’ll be happy to know that the IMF study deliberately “did not look at government support for the alternative energy industry.” So Obama’s corrupt “green energy” programs got a free pass. Gee, how convenient.

P.P.S. I realize that I forgot the mention the World Bank, the folks who put together a fiscal report card giving nations higher grades if they imposed harsher tax burdens.

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Regular readers may remember last year when I shared some remarkably silly data from the “Happy Planet Index,” which supposedly showed the United States ranked below very poor nations such as Cuba, Albania, and Venezuela.

Red is unhappy

It turns out that nations got lower grades based on their energy consumption. And since energy usage is one of the key indicators of prosperity, that explains why the United States also trailed such global garden spots as Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq, Moldova, and Tajikistan.

Well, the authors of the Happy Planet Index are not the only ones who explicitly embrace stagnation and decline as a strategy to deal with so-called climate change. A leftist think tank in DC is now arguing that we should work less, which means we will produce less and consume less energy.

But that means we will earn less, and therefore consume less. In other words, they are openly asserting that we should all endure lower living standards.

Here are some excerpts from U.S. News and World Report.

Working fewer hours might help slow global warming, according to a new study released Monday by the Center for Economic Policy and Research. A worldwide switch to a “more European” work schedule…could prevent as much as half of the expected global temperature rise by 2100, according to the analysis, which used a 2012 study that found shorter work hours could be associated with lower carbon emissions. The Center for Economic Policy and Research is a liberal think tank based in Washington. “…lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” writes economist David Rosnick, author of the study.

Gee, maybe we should be like Haiti and Afghanistan, the nations that “won” the top two spots for smallest “ecological footprint” in the Happy Planet Index.

Small carbon footprints!

I suppose this is the point where I should freely acknowledge that I’m not an expert on environmental issues.

But I am a big fan of wilderness and nature and I recognize that – unless we figure out a way to extend property rights to water and air – there is a role for government intervention.

But I’m nonetheless quite skeptical of professional environmentalists. Why? Well, here are a few reasons.

This is what we get from the sane environmentalists. The nutty ones are even more bizarre.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

So perhaps global warming is a real concern, but I think you can understand why I don’t trust environmentalists to be in charge of the issue. Though Al Gore has lots of followers, so I guess that’s all that matters.

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I’ve written about the government’s war on light bulbs, its rule against working toilets, and its prohibition of washing machines that actually clean, so I sometimes cover environmental issues.

But I usually limit myself to examples of silly radicalism, such as the crazy claim that climate change causes AIDS, a reprehensible example of EPA thuggery, and a column about pointless recycling mandates.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, environmental protection is a legitimate role of government. Simply stated, we don’t want polluters to violate our property rights.

The challenge, of course, is how to conduct sensible cost-benefit analysis.

Where do we draw the line, for instance, on how much pollution cars should be allowed to emit? Or what are the best rules to ensure landfills don’t pollute groundwater?

These are important issues, but I will admit a bias. I am instinctively skeptical whenever self-proclaimed environmentalists start pontificating.

In part, this is because everyone has an incentive to exaggerate. The business community will always say that a new regulation imposes astronomically high costs, while environmentalists will claim minimal costs and say that thousands of premature deaths will be averted.

Since exaggeration is omnipresent in Washington, that’s not what really bothers me. My main problem with environmentalists is that they want to use so-called green issues to give government more power. And if you oppose them, you’re an evil person.

Consider the example of Professor Kari Norgaard of the University of Oregon. She thinks you’re mentally ill if you don’t agree with her.

Just in case you think I’m being unfair, here are some blurbs from a report in the UK-based Daily Mail.

Prof. Kari Norgaard

An Oregon University professor has controversially compared skepticism of global warming to racism. …The professor, who holds a B.S. in biology and a master’s and PhD in sociology, argued that ‘cultural resistance’ to accepting humans as being responsible for climate change ‘must be recognised and treated’ as an aberrant sociological behaviour. …Norgaard last week attended the annual four-day ‘Planet Under Pressure’ international conference in London, where she presented her controversial paper to delegates on Wednesday.

Professor Norgaard wasn’t the only oddball at the conference. The article also mentions that the attendees included a bunch of control freaks who want to force people to live in densely-populated cities.

The scientists behind the event recently put out a statement calling for humans to be packed into denser cities so that the rest of the planet can be surrendered to mother nature. And fellow attendee Yale University professor Karen Seto told MSNBC: ‘We certainly don’t want them (humans) strolling about the entire countryside. We want them to save land for nature by living closely [together].’

The folks at the Commentator sent a camera to the conference. Here’s a five-minute sample of what they saw.

Remarkable.

But the folks at the conference weren’t even the crazies, or at least the really bizarre environmentalists weren’t part of the video. For instance, I didn’t see the folks who don’t believe in bathing, the ones who sterilize themselves to avoid carbon-producing children, or the ones who produce (or use) hand-cranked environmentally-friendly vibrators.

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I posted the other day about the federal government giving $10 million of our tax dollars to a private company for developing an “affordable” light bulb that costs $50.

Now, thanks to the pen of Alexander Hoffman (creator of this gem), we have an excellent cartoon to commemorate this achievement.

Since we’re on this topic, I want to atone for an admission in my previous post (as noted by Seth, Bill, Dan, and Talon’s Point).

If you believe the calculations cited in the article from the post, it’s possible that this light bulb might save money in the long run. I should have noted that there are two possible interpretations of that data.

a) It’s wrong, which is what you’d expect from the crowd that routinely trumpets misleading data on everything from global warming to job creation.

b) It’s right, in which case there’s no need for a $10 million taxpayer handout since consumers will figure out that the bulbs save money.

Which is why, in the absence of war, I’ll relentlessly publicize this poster showing that more government is not the answer.

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I haven’t written much on the global-warming debate, other than to warn about how agenda-driven government funding is corrupting scientific inquiry and to mock nutjob extremists who assert climate change will cause catastrophes ranging from genocide to AIDS.

But I feel compelled to address the issue today because of a despicable move by the Australian government. In a step that one might expect from a thugocracy such as Russia or Argentina, Aussie politicians are criminalizing free speech, at least when it comes to businesses dealing with the burden of a new carbon tax.

Here are some excerpts from a column in Australia’s Daily Telegraph.

Now that the carbon tax has passed through federal parliament, the government’s clean-up brigade is getting into the swing by trying to erase any dissent against the jobs-destroying legislation. On cue comes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which this week issued warnings to businesses that they will face whopping fines of up to $1.1m if they blame the carbon tax for price rises. …Businesses are not even allowed to throw special carbon tax sales promotions before the tax arrives on July 1. “Beat the Carbon Tax – Buy Now” or “Buy now before the carbon tax bites” are sales pitches that are verboten. Or at least, as the ACCC puts it, “you should be very cautious about making these types of claims”. There will be 23 carbon cops roaming the streets doing snap audits of businesses that “choose to link your price increases to a carbon price”. Instead, the ACCC suggests you tell customers you’ve raised prices because “the overall cost of running (your) business has increased”. …But no matter how Orwellian the tactics, no matter how many carbon cops are sent into hairdressing salons to interrogate barbers on the precise nature of their price rises, the truth remains: Australia has gone out on a limb, imposing a carbon tax that will send businesses to the wall, cause undue hardship to families, and tether Australians more tightly to government handouts. And soon, we will send billions of dollars overseas to buy useless pieces of paper called carbon credits. Investment bankers, lawyers and carbon traders will get rich, as will all the usual spivs and scam artists ready to stick a bucket under the government spigot raining taxpayer cash.

As is often the case when I read something this grotesque, I hope the author is wrong, or at least wildly exaggerating. I don’t hold politicians in high regard, but I like to think we haven’t reached a stage where they are using government coercion to stifle dissent.

I’m especially chagrined that this soft form of fascism is happening in one of my favorite nations.

By the way, as those of us in the northern hemisphere prepare for winter, we also should prepare for more protests instigated by Al Gore. And if you like global-warming humor, this Hitler parody is a classic.

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Al Gore really knows how to get a good turnout.

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I’ve already commented here and here on the government forcing us to use inferior lightbulbs.

The bad news is becoming worse news. Here’s a story from England that was linked on Instapundit, showing how big business (which conspired with the politicians to get rid of high-quality incandescent bulbs) will now reap a windfall selling the new CFL bulbs at much higher prices. Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Mail.

The price of energy-saving light bulbs will treble as the final supplies of traditional bulbs dry up, industry experts have warned. The Government has ordered energy companies to scrap the subsidies that have kept the price of eco-bulbs artificially low for the last few years. At the same time, manufacturers are increasing wholesale prices to take advantage of the European ban on ‘energy guzzling’ old-style bulbs. Retailers also claim bulbs that currently cost only 33p are expected to sell for more than £1 within three months. Some will cost £3 or more. The move comes as Britain is gearing up to phase out the last incandescent light bulbs in an effort to meet climate change targets. The EU has already banned shops from buying stocks of 100watt bulbs and stopped them stocking up on any type of frosted incandescent bulbs.

The only silver lining to this dark cloud is that (at least I don’t think) CFLs are not subsidized in the United States. So while it is likely that prices will increase once there no longer is competition from incandescent bulbs, hopefully American consumers will not face the same big price hikes as their British cousins.

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The mid-term elections were a rejection of President Obama’s big-government agenda, but those results don’t necessarily mean better policy. We should not forget, after all, that Democrats rammed through Obamacare even after losing the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts (much to my dismay, my prediction from last January was correct).

Similarly, GOP control of the House of Representatives does not automatically mean less government and more freedom. Heck, it doesn’t even guarantee that things won’t continue to move in the wrong direction. Here are five possible bad policies for 2011, most of which the Obama White House can implement by using executive power.

1. A back-door bailout of the states from the Federal Reserve – The new GOP Congress presumably wouldn’t be foolish enough to bail out profligate states such as California and Illinois, but that does not mean the battle is won. Ben Bernanke already has demonstrated that he is willing to curry favor with the White House by debasing the value of the dollar, so what’s to stop him from engineering a back-door bailout by having the Federal Reserve buy state bonds? The European Central Bank already is using this tactic to bail out Europe’s welfare states, so a precedent already exists for this type of misguided policy. To make matters worse, there’s nothing Congress can do – barring legislation that Obama presumably would veto – to stop the Fed from this awful policy.

2. A front-door bailout of Europe by the United States – Welfare states in Europe are teetering on the edge of insolvency. Decades of big government have crippled economic growth and generated mountains of debt. Ireland and Greece already have been bailed out, and Portugal and Spain are probably next on the list, to be followed by countries such as Italy and Belgium. So why should American taxpayers worry about European bailouts? The unfortunate answer is that American taxpayers will pick up a big chunk of the tab if the International Monetary Fund is involved. Indeed, this horse already has escaped the barn. The United States provides the largest amount of  subsidies to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF took part in the bailouts of Greece and Ireland. The Senate did vote against having American taxpayers take part in the bailout of Greece, but that turned out to be a symbolic exercise. Sadly, that’s probably what we can expect if and when there are bailouts of the bigger European welfare states.

3. Republicans getting duped by Obama and supporting a VAT – The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Obama Administration is contemplating a reduction in the corporate income tax. This sounds like a great idea, particularly since America’s punitive corporate tax rate is undermining competitiveness and hindering job creation. But what happens if Obama demands that Congress approve a value-added tax to “pay for” the lower corporate tax rate? This would be a terrible deal, sort of like a football team trading a great young quarterback for a 35-year old lineman. The VAT would give statists a money machine that they need to turn the United States into a French-style welfare state. This type of national sales tax would only be acceptable if the personal and corporate income taxes were abolished – and the Constitution was amended to make sure the federal government never again could tax what we earn and produce. But that’s not the deal Obama would offer. My fingers are crossed that Obama doesn’t offer to swap a lower corporate income tax for a VAT, particularly since we already know that some Republicans are susceptible to the VAT.

4. Regulatory imposition of global warming policy – This actually is an issue we needed to start worrying about before this year. The Obama Administration already is in the process of trying to use regulatory edicts to impose Kyoto-style restrictions on energy use, and 2011 may be a pivotal year for this issue. This issue is troubling because of the potential impact on economic growth, but it also represents an assault on the rule of law since the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency are engaging in regulatory overreach because they did not have enough support to get so-called climate change legislation through Congress. The new GOP majority presumably will try to use the “power of the purse” to limit the EPA’s power grab, and the outcome of that fight could have dramatic implications for job creation and competitiveness.

5. U.N. control of the Internet – The Federal Communications Commission just engaged in an unprecedented power grab as part of its “Net Neutrality” initiative, so we already have bad news for both Internet consumers and America’s telecommunications industry. But it may get worse. The bureaucrats at the United Nations, conspiring with autocratic governments, have created an Internet Governance Forum in hopes of grabbing power over the online world. This has caused considerable angst, leading Vint Cerf, one of inventors of the Internet (sorry, Al Gore) to warn: “We don’t believe governments should be allowed to grant themselves a monopoly on Internet governance. The current bottoms-up, open approach works — protecting users from vested interests and enabling rapid innovation. Let’s fight to keep it that way.” International bureaucracies are very skilled at incrementally increasing their authority, so this won’t be a one-year fight. Stopping this power grab will require persistent oversight and a willingness to reject compromises that inevitably give bureaucracies more power and simply set the stage for further demands.

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In a previous post, I gave Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana a verbal kick in the shins because the rumored-to-be presidential candidate said nice things about a value-added tax.

While the VAT is a despicable idea, I don’t want anybody to think I harbor a special animosity for Governor Daniels. I am very skeptical of all politicians.

So let’s kick someone else in the shins, and we’ll make Newt Gingrich today’s target. I’ve actually known Newt since 1978, when I was a weekend volunteer for his first winning campaign while a student at the University of Georgia. And I think Newt was a superb Minority Leader for the GOP and he deserves considerable credit for dethroning the Democrats in 1994.

But that doesn’t mean he would be a good President, particularly when (to my knowledge) has not recanted this nauseating commercial he made with Nancy Pelosi.

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I’ve already posted about the nut who claimed that global warming was causing AIDS, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that a writer for the New Republic says global warming may lead to genocide.

But that may not be the silliest thing said by a left winger in the past couple of days. Hugo Chavez is blaming capitalism for heavy rains that have caused flooding in Venezuela.

So which statement is more laughable? After careful consideration, I give the excessive hyperbole prize to Timothy Snyder, the author of the New Republic article.

Yes, I despise the Venezuelan dictator, but I can understand why a thug politician would want to deflect blame for his personal incompetence and his  government’s inability to deal with bad weather. Heck, even non-thug politicians look for scapegoats when their policies are failing.

Snyder, by contrast, is much more on the cutting edge of left-wing absurdity. Congrats to Tim!

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The old saying that “two wrongs don’t make a right” is especially true in the field of public policy. A good example is the crazy new proposal from the United Nations to collect billions of dollars by imposing global taxes on financial transactions and energy. That’s bad enough, but the international bureaucracy wants to impose these taxes in order to bribe developing nations into agreeing to cripple their economies with policies designed to fight global warming. So people in the real world would pay more money to support a misguided scheme, while a bunch of tax-free bureaucrats get more power. This is so absurd that even the Obama Administration is opposed – at least according to this Bloomberg story.

At least $65 billion might be raised by taxing foreign-exchange transactions and auctioning pollution permits, a United Nations panel said today in a report recommending ways to finance aid for fighting global warming. The panel, which includes billionaire investor George Soros and Larry Summers, director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council, said selling carbon-emissions permits would generate $38 billion and a financial transactions tax an additional $27 billion, according to the report released today. The findings are intended to guide envoys at UN climate talks that start this month in Mexico as they seek ways to pay for $100 billion in climate aid that was pledged by 2020 to poor nations at last year’s summit in Copenhagen. The report found that the goal is “challenging but feasible” to achieve. …Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and labor groups including the U.K. Trades Union Congress have supported the idea. President Barack Obama’s administration opposes it. A tax of 0.05 percent on financial transactions may raise as much as $700 billion a year, according to WWF, a Washington-based global environmental activist group.

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I saw this on the Powerline blog. Here are some excerpts from Hal Lewis’ resignation letter from the America Physical Society. In a nutshell, he exposes how scientists have been corrupted by government money. Amazing. And powerful.

For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society. It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. …The appallingly tendentious APS statement on Climate Change was apparently written in a hurry by a few people over lunch, and is certainly not representative of the talents of APS members as I have long known them. So a few of us petitioned the Council to reconsider it. One of the outstanding marks of (in)distinction in the Statement was the poison word incontrovertible, which describes few items in physics, certainly not this one. In response APS appointed a secret committee that never met, never troubled to speak to any skeptics, yet endorsed the Statement in its entirety. …This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.

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Here’s one of those “not just no, but Hell No” issues. The United Nations has put together a group of global collectivists to concoct a plan of global taxes. These new levies, on things such as airfares and energy use, would be used to finance bribes (oops, I mean foreign aid) to lure developing nations into a global warming (oops, I mean climate change) regime. 
Carbon taxes, add-ons to international air fares and a levy on cross-border money movements are among ways being considered by a panel of the world’s leading economists to raise a staggering $100 billion a year to fight climate change. British economist Nicholas Stern told international climate negotiators Thursday that government regulation and public money also will be needed to create incentives for private investment in industries that emit fewer greenhouse gases. In short, a new industrial revolution is needed to move the world away from fossil fuels to low carbon growth, he said. “It will be extremely exciting, dynamic and productive,” said Stern, one of 18 experts in public finance on an advisory panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A climate summit held in Copenhagen in December was determined to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide trapping the sun’s heat. But the 120 world leaders who met in the Danish capital offered no ideas on how to raise that sum — $1 trillion every decade — prompting Ban to appoint his high-level advisory group. …The advisory panel is chaired by the prime ministers of Norway and Ethiopia and the president of Guyana. Its members include French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, billionaire financier George Soros and public planners from China, India, Singapore and several international banks.

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Thanks to Instapundit for drawing attention to this Financial Times report showing how ultra-rich elitists and politicians flew to South Africa on private jets, which meant both big carbon footprints and also resulted in ordinary people missing a key soccer match because the airport was too cluttered for many commercial planes to land. The Hypocrite-of-the-Year Award goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who piously lectures ordinary people about how they should be good environmentalists (translation: pay higher energy taxes and reduce travel), but then engages in Al Gore-style global jet setting.
Hundreds of fans bound for Durban for the Germany-Spain World Cup semi final missed the game because their flights were unable to land, after air traffic authorities closed the city’s airport because of congestion on the runway caused by private aircraft. …Wire services reported that among the VIPs heading for the semi-final by jet were Spain’s King Juan Carlos, South African President Jacob Zuma, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and socialite Paris Hilton. The BA pilot, who held his plane for around 45 minutes above Durban in the vain hope of getting a landing slot, told passengers he had no choice but to take the plane to Johannesburg because the plane’s fuel was starting to run low. He announced that the problem was caused by the airport allowing too many private jets to land at Durban, leaving the runways clogged up and unable to accept scheduled flights. Confusion was heightened at OR Tambo airport by the lack of any senior officials to explain the problem. One junior official said she believed around 15 scheduled flights, mostly from Johannesburg, were unable to land in Durban.

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I’m sitting in the offices of the Heartland Institute in Chicago, so it is appropriate that I share one of their videos criticizing the radical cap-and-trade plan being pushed on Capitol Hill.

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Sleazy political behavior does not necessarily require a bag of money being handed to a politician in a deserted parking garage. Sometimes it is blatantly visible. A good example is the European version of “cap-and-trade” climate legislation. While the legislation produced lots of criminal activity, it also enabled big European companies to game the system, pocketing lots of unearned money thanks to their lobbying power. The House-passed version of the “cap-and-trade” bill in America makes many of the same mistakes, with favors to various campaign contributors and special interests. The Wall Street Journal editorial excerpted below is a good indication of the type of nonsense that will happen in the United States if the bill is approved by the Senate:

Democrats are promising to apply themselves to the task of imposing legislative curbs on carbon. So it’s a good time to see how a prototype cap-and-trade scheme, the European Union’s Emission Trading System, is faring. …Last week, spot trading on the ETS ground to a complete halt for three days after a scandal erupted over players gaming the system. In this case, the government of Hungary admitted to reselling “certified emission reduction” credits that companies had already relinquished, or “spent.” …This is just the latest in a string of embarrassments that have plagued the system almost from the beginning. European authorities admitted last year that in certain countries, 90% of the trading volume was taken up by value-added tax fraud. Sandbag, a British advocacy group, reported in February that metals firms ArcelorMittal, Salzgitter, U.S. Steel, and Corus were just a few of the companies that had been granted more emission permits than they needed. In ArcelorMittal’s case, according to Sandbag, those spare permits amounted to €202 million in asset value in 2008. Last year, Corus announced it was closing a steel plant in Britain and laying off 1,700 workers, for which the company reaped a windfall in carbon allowances. …the ETS is a cautionary tale in how quickly environmental policy engineering degrades into rent-seeking for the fortunate few.

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