Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Open Letter to Republican Politicians

Dear Republicans,

I am not going lie here: I am a liberal. I'm atheist, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-socialized medicine, pro-gun control, etc. But I am no socialist, I recognize that markets are generally the best way of maximizing welfare. I don't like onerous regulations, pet-project spending, and needless giveaways, even to companies or causes that I support. I would be willing to cast aside my opinions on other issues if you will just do one thing: support a carbon tax. Nay, not just support it, make it the centerpiece of your campaign. I keep on hearing that there are Republicans out there who secretly believe that climate change is real. Go ahead, come out of the closet. I will support you and so will many other "liberal" environmentalists. We're not all preordained to believe that markets are inherently evil and that Wall Street is the devil incarnate. Listen to the companies you so champion and the economists that you employ. 

You all say that a carbon tax is a massive government intervention, but it's not. It can easily be revenue neutral (ie a per-capita dividend and/or lowering of other taxes), an approach supported by Al Gore and the burgeoning Citizen's Climate Lobby. I will fully support a carbon tax you propose that is coupled with the phasing out of all renewable energy subsidies and standards, all fuel economy standards, all efficiency mandates. The only caveat is that it must be a high and rising tax that will enable us to seriously put a dent in our carbon emissions. That is a tough sell, I know. But it is something that is supported by a great many of your own economists, and championed by former Bush and Romney advisory Greg Mankiw. A carbon tax is also supported by the late great Nobel-Prize winning University of Chicago economist Gary Becker. Multiple other highly important Republican advisers have championed the cause, from Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz. Many of the businesses you purport to champion are fully embracing of the necessity of cutting CO2 emissions. They include some of the big businesses that you say you support: Monsanto, Exxon, BP, Shell, Coca Cola, Dupont, Nestle, Unilever, Microsoft, Duke Energy, and others have publicly stated multiple times that they support a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Do you really think that the largest energy, tech, chemical, and consumer service companies in the world want to implement a socialist, economically crippling policy?

Look, I am not going to pretend that it will be easy. A carbon tax will impose real costs on energy consumers and producers and may not grow GDP. But if you believe that climate change is real, it is worth it. You're right, coal is dying and the industry could undergo a slow demise with carbon pricing legislation.  If properly monitored, natural gas from fracking (well-regulated and monitored) has the potential in the midterm to slow the rise of CO2 emissions. And gas exports can help emerging economies in India, China, and Africa get access to electricity without destroying the air in all of their cities. Where renewables or nuclear energy are not economically viable, fossil fuels may still play a role with carbon sequestration. A carbon tax would level the playing field between all technologies instead of favoring solar, wind, and biofuels as is the case today. Essential to any carbon tax proposal would be the removal of all GHG policies currently in place, thus limiting the bureaucratic overreach of the EPA. If you actually are willing to negotiate, you could help lower corporate income taxes and labor-taxing revenue streams. You could help compensate and retrain working-class families in polluting industries who may lose their jobs. Obviously nothing will perfectly satisfy both sides, but there is a lot for you to gain on issues that Democrats would otherwise be unwilling to negotiate. 

You may have heard the news about the Climate March and thought that it was just an assortment of activists who want to impose a new socialist order. I assure you that not all of us think this. But when the only choices for environmentally conscious citizens are subsidies for renewables or a party that supports subsidizing coal, oil, logging, and gas with no regard to pollution, habitat, or climate change impacts, we don't really have much choice. But don't listen to me, listen to all of the employers and conservative economists who are otherwise your stalwart allies.

Naor Deleanu