A Libertarian Argues for a Carbon Tax

I posted earlier today an item about a recent meeting held at the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, between conservative and progressive policy wonks to talk about a carbon tax as way to address the problem of man-made global warming. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell decried any discussion by conservatives of a carbon tax as "political poison."

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler (who is former CEI staffer and a friend) emailed to remind me that some libertarians are concerned about the property rights implications of man-made global warming and how to redress the damage being caused to third parties by emitting carbon dioxide. Back in May, over at the Altantic Monthly blog, Adler wrote:

My argument is that the same general principles that lead libertarians and conservatives to call for greater protection of property rights should lead them to call for greater attention to the most likely effects of climate change.  It is a well recognized principle of common law that if company A is flooding the land of person B, it is irrelevant whether company A generates lots of economic prosperity for the local community (including B).  A's action would still violate B's property rights, and B would be entitled to relief of some sort.  By the same token, if the land of a farmer in Bangladesh is flooded, due in measurable and provable part to human-induced climate change, why would he be any less entitled to redress than a farmer who has his land flooded by his neighbor's land-use changes? Property rights should not be sacrificed as part of some utilitarian calculus.  Libertarians readily accept this principle when government planners violate property rights in the name of economic development (see e.g., Kelo v. New London).  Yet they seem to abandon their commitment to property rights when it comes to global warming.

I readily recognize that there is, as yet, no international mechanism that adjudicate warming-based disputes, and I am quite sympathetic to those who believe any international entity capable of adjudicating such disputes would do more harm than good, but this does not negate the principle that global warming is, as best we can tell, likely to cause harms that should be addressed.  The question is how to do it.

Adler goes on to discuss various policy proposals including R&D prizes for developing low-carbon energy technologies, the removal of regulatory barriers for deploying new energy production technologies, and the development of markets, say in water, to enable people to adapt more easily to climate change. He then argues for a carbon tax:

I believe the United States should adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax, much like that suggested by NASA's James Hansen.  Specifically, the federal government should impose a price on carbon that is fully rebated to taxpayers on a per capita basis.  This would, in effect, shift the incidence of federal taxes away from income and labor and onto energy consumption and offset some of the potential regressivity of a carbon tax.  For conservatives who have long supported shifting from an income tax to a sales or consumption tax, and oppose increasing the federal tax burden, this should be a no brainer.  If fully rebated, there is no need to worry about whether the government will put the resulting revenues to good use, but the tax would provide a significant incentive to reduce carbon energy use.  Further, a carbon tax would be more transparent and less vulnerable to rent-seeking and special interest mischief than equivalent cap-and-trade schemes and would also be easier to account for within the global trading system.  All this means a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be easier to enact than cap-and-trade.  And as for a broader theoretical justification, if the global atmosphere is a global commons owned by us all, why should not those who use this commons to dispose of their carbon emissions pay a user fee to compensate those who are affected.

Adler is no fool. Discuss amongst yourselves.

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  • T o n y||

    Just heard on the radio how the US, due to the recession as well as deliberate Obama administration policies including CAFE standards and RD funding, has actually reduced its carbon output to nearly the levels called for by Kyoto, or around 1990 levels. What would have been politically impossible if passed in a single bill has been done by small measures and by accident.

  • Drake||

    I wouldn't call the destruction of our economy an "accident". It was a combination of incompetence and malice.

  • oncogenesis||

    AKA, malcompetence.

  • BarryD||

    Malcompetence in the Obama Administration? That's unpossible!

  • Laird||

    Great word! I intent to appropriate it.

  • BarryD||

    It's not quite up there with analrapist, but it's more useful on a daily basis.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Psychotherapist I find is still the unintentional wordplay King.

  • wareagle||

    nothing done by The Obama that has reduced economic output is by accident.

  • T o n y||

    Nothing the Obama administration has done has reduced economic output.

    The crash happened under the Bush administration. Try as they might, FOX News can't rewrite that history.

  • wareagle||

    under Obama, things like unemployment have worsened. The debt has worsened. The size of the labor force has shrunk.

    After nearly four years, your guy has to accept some responsibility. But he can't come out and say that increasing federal dependency is the plan, now can he. So, he counts on you to yell Bush, Fox, Europe, Japanese tsunami, Arabs in the streets, and obstructionism. It's pathetic. Grow a pair, dude.

  • T o n y||

    You don't think a Congress completely unwilling to pass any bills to aid economic growth has something to do with the state of the economy? It's all just Obama's fault... somehow.

  • wareagle||

    Obama had bullet proof majorities his first two years, when the economic bleeding was at its worst. What did he do? A useless stimulus and health reform. And now he's back to tax hikes.

    If you can blame the crash solely on Bush, then Obama gets the mantle for its continuation. Cuts both ways sparky.

  • mr simple||

    bills to aid economic growth

    Funny, I don't remember any bills coming up that called for decreased regulation, greatly reduced spending, privatization of most government services, or lower taxes not getting passed, or even being brought up.

  • T o n y||

    Why would we want to pass a recipe for steep economic contraction?

  • ||

    You don't think a Congress completely unwilling to pass any bills to aid economic growth has something to do with the state of the economy?

    If you think Cash for Clunkers and the various stimuli bills and Obamacare and all the other economically ignorant legislation "aid economic growth", you don't understand reality.

  • BarryD||

    If Cash for Clunkers worked so well, why don't we just go through VIN numbers in order, and destroy every third car?

  • Drake||

    You are correct. I blame Senator Obama as much as President Obama.

  • GILMORE||

    T o n y|7.12.12 @ 3:24PM|#
    ...
    The crash happened under the Bush administration

    And the low-interest rate, loose-money policies that inflated housing began under the clinton presidency! Whee~! ENDLESS CAUSATION!

    Fucking morons = presidents don't drive 'the economy' like some wizard of oz with his hands on the levers.

    Want to play *blame*? Pick the last 12 sessions of congress, and the fed for the last 2 decades.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    I was pretty certain it happened under a Democratic Congress, so thanks for setting me straight.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    The crash happened under the Bush administration.

    The burning crater resulting from the crash is owned by the Clown Administration.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Also due to use of more natural gas and less coal, right?

  • T o n y||

    Yes.

  • #||

    it has more to do with this. It's the economy and shift of coal to natural gas. And CAFE standards stuff hasn't even applied yet. This has been a trend since about 2006.

    But wasn't someone on here a little while back who linked to a piece on this saying that the Tony's of the world would do just this?

    Try to say its been the governments regulations that have done it, not due to a natural gas boom and corresponding market response?

  • Nyarlathotep||

    You realize, Tony, that you've just made a strong argument *against* binding agreements like the Kyoto accord?

    Also, CDN$

  • T o n y||

    I'm in favor of strong centralized action but have never assumed it would be politically feasible.

    Maybe, ironically, electing Republicans to office will do more for the climate than anything. No, they won't stop lavishing oil and coal with government loot, but they will keep causing recessions.

  • Sam Grove||

    but they will keep causing recessions.

    Because they spend like Democrats.

  • Coeus||

    Just heard on the radio how the US, due to the recession as well as deliberate Obama administration policies including CAFE standards and RD funding, has actually reduced its carbon output to nearly the levels called for by Kyoto, or around 1990 levels.

    Right. Anything but the truth. CAFE standards and solar panel research didn't do shit. It was a combination of the recession and using natural gas instead of coal.

  • KPres||

    "What would have been politically impossible if passed in a single bill has been done by small measures and by accident."

    Politically impossible? You're an idiot. You guys can have a carbon tax any time you want. All you have to do is agree to lower other by an equal amount. Revenues break even and you get your carbon tax. Even if Republicans opposed it, they would have no rhetorical ground to stand on and the Dems would run away with an easy victory.

    Now, this doesn't take a political genius to figure out, its a very simple strategy. The fact that the Dems haven't done it, though, speaks volumes. In fact, if global warming really was the catastrophe they claim, it would have been done 10 years ago. But they never did it.

    Why?

    BECAUSE IT'S NOT ABOUT THE FUCKING CLIMATE!!

  • KPres||

    edit: "lower other taxes"

  • ||

    You forgot to mention natural gas.

    Should also mention that per capita and per GDP CO2 emissions have been dropping long before Obama came along and often at rates higher then we have seen over the past 3 years.

    The only real thing that has changed is the amount of natural gas we are using and the decline of coal.

    You are full of shit Tony. The drop was caused by the market not some fantasy government program.

  • ||

    as deliberate Obama administration policies including CAFE standards and RD funding

    Sorry Tony you are dead wrong. Obama did nothing to lower the price of natural gas. It had everything to do with technological break throughs in the private sector...most notably using fracking to mine natural gas.

    As of April, gas tied coal at 32% of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal’s 100 year reign on top of electricity markets. Let’s remember the speed and extent of gas’s rise and coal’s drop: coal had 52% of the market in 2000 and 48% in 2008.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    You never see a natural gas plant on eco-crier books because they're so boring making no smoke and all - just sitting there gleaming and spitting out homemade megawatts and clear, odorless organic compounds.

    All with nary a camel-jock nor his problems and prejudices in sight. Nice.

    Natural gas is going to be tough for the Donktards to demonize.

  • Westmiller||

    Actually, worldwide carbon output has fallen because of pervasive recessions and crashes ... which is a direct result of the Obama/Greek policy of destroying private industry.
    Yes, Adler's policy would make sense IF AND ONLY IF anyone could prove that there is any correlation whatever between human carbon emissions and global warming. That evidence does NOT exist, except in the fantasies of Green Hysterics on the worldwide government doles.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Actually, worldwide carbon output has fallen...

    Worldwide carbon output has not fallen since the Kyoto protocol. And if there's any kind of report out there stating such I would be hard-pressed to believe it.

    China alone over past twenty years went from little zero to Carbon Pig hero in that time.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No. A tax is no way to deal with something like this. Even assuming, which I don't, that anthropogenic global warming is actually a threat that requires such steps.

    Besides, now that the Tax Power has been unleashed, we'll be all tapped out after the federal government decides to run even more amok.

  • ||

    Yeah, this is like calling for Net Neutrality. "There may be sort of a problem here, but instead of letting technology advancement sort this out, let's let the government handle it; of course, once it's in it, the government will never leave, thereby making it a problem for all time, but I guess I'm too stupid to see that."

  • Pro Libertate||

    Because government's track record of solving problems is so good and technology's so bad.

  • Brett L||

    Now if your problem is several million peasants that need to be killed, there's no substitute for government.

  • ||

  • ||

  • ||

  • wareagle||

    some libertarians are concerned about the property rights implications of man-made global warming and how to redress the damage being caused to third parties

    this rests on the belief that man is the cause of global warming or climate change or whatever the term of the moment is, and there is no evidence to back that up. Lots of temperature charts that can show trends over time; no charts that document causes.

    The more I read that "concern", the more it sounds like trying to pass a policy that speaks to how a butterfly on one side of the planet is causing hurricanes on teh other.

  • T o n y||

    You are telling falsehoods. Stop it. Read up on current science, not rightwing blogs, or else shut the fuck up about a topic you don't understand.

  • The Hammer||

    Shorter Tony: Heretic!! Burn it!!!!1

  • T o n y||

    Where current science is on such a topic is not a matter of debate. It's just a matter of you reading stuff and educating yourself. You can get a nice brief overview by spending 10 minutes in the first few Google hits. That the vast majority here apparently have never done this can only mean that it's YOU who are antiintellectual tribalists.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    Any science as complex, varied and poorly understood as global climate is ALWAYS a matter of debate.

  • T o n y||

    Not by these yokels who believe whatever their tribal leaders tell them to believe and don't appear to understand science at all.

  • #||

    ^^ Tony projecting ^^

  • wareagle||

    eat shit tony. Alternatively, you could try showing any proof of a causal link. Any proof at all.

  • T o n y||

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    ...Earth’s climate responds to changes in solar output, in the Earth’s orbit, and in greenhouse gas levels.

    Interesting order they put them in, from your link above. Shows lots of symptoms, but no casual links.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    *causal*

  • wareagle||

    when the first line says: The Earth's climate has changed throughout history., and uses such clearly scientific terminology as most of it very likely human-induced, the room for skepticism should be clear.

    At best you have a working theory. The only thing anyone can demonstrate conclusively is the rise and fall of temperatures. Forty years ago, it was a climactic ice age; now, it's the opposite. Try harder.

  • T o n y||

    wareagle to NASA: try harder.

  • wareagle||

    in its own words, tony, NASA does not know. That's why your link references things other than man.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Actually, he may be trying to tell you to try harder; you did see where the key sources of data came from, right?

    The following are the key sources of data and information contained on this page:
    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers
    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Technical Summary
    NOAA Paleoclimatology
  • T o n y||

    Yes and I suppose you have a prefabricated conspiracy theory for why these sources are untrustworthy? You both are welcome to read the sources for NASA's little primer.

    For more detail I suggest Wikipedia. Or is it in on the vast Al Gore conspiracy too?

    Not knowing where current science is--a science that is decades old, the basic facts of which are not in controversy--is nobody's fault but your own.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    No conspiracy theory necessary. The science is VERY complicated with lots of uncertianties. Lets let NASA tell us about it:

    NASA uncertianties

  • T o n y||

    The uncertainties do not imply less risk, but could easily imply more risk than is thought.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    The uncertainties do not imply less risk, but could easily imply more risk than is thought.

    No, they do not imply anything about risk. They imply that scientist do not know about these things or their impact. If GW is caused by clouds, or aerosols, or solar irradiance, then no amount of money stolen and spent will fix the issue.

  • Scarcity||

    Uncertainties imply a wider range of possible outcomes, not simply worse ones.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Just one from my link:

    Because clouds are such powerful climate actors, even small changes in average cloud amounts, locations, and type could speed warming, slow it, or even reverse it. Current climate models do not represent cloud physics well, so the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently rated clouds among its highest research priorities.
  • Scarcity||

    That link still says that the antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, which we learned recently was never based on direct observation but on a projection from a model and now known to be false.

    I don't have time to follow this stuff all the time, but can you see how people become skeptical when shit like that is passed off as authoritative science by NASA?

  • Scarcity||

    The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2

    2 In the 1860s, physicist John Tyndall recognized the Earth's natural greenhouse effect and suggested that slight changes in the atmospheric composition could bring about climatic variations. In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first speculated that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

    I'm sorry, demonstrated? Recognized, suggested, speculated, not demonstrated. Sloppy.

  • R C Dean||

    some libertarians are concerned about the property rights implications of man-made global warming and how to redress the damage being caused to third parties by emitting carbon dioxide.

    Assumes items not in evidence.

  • Translucent Chum||

    Does a 250lb person get taxed more than a 175lb person?
    I need someone to explain a fully rebated tax to me. Why bother?

  • Translucent Chum||

    Because I know fatty is breathing in and out faster than I am, therefore creating more CO2.

  • Drake||

    Prove to me that:
    1. Global warming is occurring.
    2. It is actually caused by our carbon emissions, not sunspots or normal fluctuation.
    3. It harms anyone.

    Then we can talk about taxing my carbon output. Until then, fuck off pretend libertarian.

  • BarryD||

    Prove these three things AND that a tax will somehow fix the "problem" without incurring greater costs than the problem itself might. If the tax doesn't fix it, or if the costs of the tax are greater than the cost of the problem, then there is also no justification for the tax.

  • Scarcity||

    Well his argument in part is that a libertarian approach does not allow for the costs to property due to AGW in total be measured against the cost to emitters of a tax. He argues that we are required to consider individual property owners' harms and attempt to remedy them.

    For reasons others have stated, I don't think this is the right approach, but his argument requires more that stating that the harm of fixing AGW is greater than or equal to the total harm to individual property owners.

  • Scarcity||

    but refuting his argument

  • BarryD||

    WHAT costs to property due to AGW?

    "Can't be measured" suggests that there actually ARE some costs, and that they can somehow be clearly shown, but not reduced to a "per property owner" number.

    The whole premise is bullshit. That's the problem.

  • BarryD||

    Also, let's assume that we see significant AGW. Do we tax the shit out of someone who had a deed to 1000 acres of worthless, unsellable dirt in South Dakota, that is now smack in the middle of the world's best wine country?

    The assumption that there are net COSTS to everyone is, itself, bullshit, even if Al Gore and the worst of the scare-mongers would turn out to be dead-on correct about what will happen.

  • Scarcity||

    Right. He's basically saying that as libertarians we need to favor reimbursing property owners for harms due to a phenomenon, while the extent of said harms is absolutely unknowable. So, I guess, we should just collect a tax and take a shitty authoritarian collectivist approach instead.

  • BarryD||

    The extent of the harms, the very existence of such harms, and the extent of BENEFITS to some property owners, are all unknown.

  • blackjack||

    Didn't you hear? Science has decided to suspend the idea of questioning for this one issue, because it helps the government to wield enormous power. All that investigating was getting tiring anyways. Science is now "settled." Does this mean we can fire them all?

  • ant1sthenes||

    While we're at it, prove that any particular natural disaster is due to anthropogenic climate change rather than ordinary bad luck.

  • Scarcity||

    The incidence of Category 3-and-weakening hurricanes striking major US cities that were unprepared for an obvious eventuality has increased infinity% in the past decade.

    Refute that! (If you do, preemptive RACIST!)

  • BarryD||

    Or good luck. I didn't see American or European automakers crying in their beer when Japan got hit by a tsunami. Maybe in public, they did, but not when they retreated to their pools filled with dollar bills and swam around wearing their monocles.

  • Dylan||

    "swam around wearing their monocles" I thought that was a weird talent requirement on the CEO applications, but it all makes sense now.

  • BarryD||

    Their annual race in Aspen is worth seeing.

  • Fluffy||

    The problem is differentiating between the carbon produced by, say, my lawn mower, and the carbon produced by a billion Chinamen breathing.

    You can draw a bright line of causality from me building a big dam on my property to my neighbor upstream getting flooded. You really can't draw such a line from my lawnmower to the guy in Bangladesh. Because even if AGW is true, if those billion Chinamen would just stop breathing, my lawnmower wouldn't hurt anybody at all.

  • Pro Libertate||

    So, instead of a tax, you advocate an axe?

  • Elphie||

    He think he's saying he supports "a tax" on the Chinese... if you get my drift.

  • wef||

    Exactly - we have to have CO2-adjusted tariffs. Now. For the children.

  • Pro Libertate||

    One of Counselor Dean's penaltaxes?

  • Elphie||

    Yes, I'll pretend that's what I meant.

  • mr simple||

  • Brett L||

    Uh. Pretty sure most of the Greens already advocate that Chinese and everyone else in the developing world die as quickly as possible.

  • R C Dean||

    Indeed. Greens invariably believe "Just enough of me. Way too much of you."

  • T o n y||

    The carbon coming from your lawnmower was once buried deep in the earth. The carbon coming from the mouths of Chinamen was part of the status quo carbon cycle already.

  • wareagle||

    so there was an initial 'status quo' issue of carbon at some point? Even you can't believe your own bullshit.

  • T o n y||

  • Fluffy||

    Even if I accept a distinction between carbon from fossil fuels and carbon from the respiration of living organisms (and I don't) that would just move the problem.

    If you proved that AGW caused specific destruction to a farmer in Bangladesh, you would be proving that the aggregate production of all carbon by humans for all time increased greenhouse gases by X, and X caused the harm.

    My share of liability should therefore be my share of X.

    But a carbon tax would put the liability only on current producers of carbon, while letting the past producers off scot-free.

    The CO2 generated by your trip to the grocery store in 1974 would be just as responsible for the harm suffered by the Bangladeshi farmer as the CO2 generated by my trip the day after the inauguration of the tax. But my molecules of CO2 would be taxed and yours wouldn't. There are profound equity issues there.

  • T o n y||

    Which is why I don't care that much about determining liability specifically, but about solving the problem. Everyone who consumes fossil-fuel based energy, and that's just about everyone, is responsible. That's why it's best viewed as a social problem with a social solution.

  • ||

    Thanks for admitting you don't care and that your liability arguments are full of shit.

  • Chloe||

    And if each of those stupid volcanos would just stop releasing every day the same amount of carbon that humans release in one year collectively, we wouldn't be in this mess.

  • Brett L||

    I categorically oppose any "solution" posed by James Hansen. That man has been interested in nothing but promoting himself for at least a decade. He has no interest in solutions, only demonization.

    Also, I object to the idea of "revenue neutral" taxation, because it never works like that. If our taxation predictions were that fucking good, we wouldn't run deficts, we'd just adjust taxes appropriately.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    By the same token, if the land of a farmer in Bangladesh is flooded, due in measurable and provable part to human-induced climate change, why would he be any less entitled to redress than a farmer who has his land flooded by his neighbor's land-use changes?

    Good luck with the burden of proof on that.

  • John||

    If fully rebated, there is no need to worry about whether the government will put the resulting revenues to good use, but the tax would provide a significant incentive to reduce carbon energy use.

    That is beltway speak for "making energy more expensive and all of us poorer". Anyone who believes in this nonsense forfeits the right to be taken seriously about anything.

  • BarryD||

    Also energy, in various forms, is ultimately what makes the poor much wealthier than the poor have ever been, in human history.

  • John||

    Exactly. If we spend more money on energy, we will have less of it to spend on other things. It is that simple. And if we use less of it, we will have less of the things it produces.

    Oh but clever by half nitwits like Adler will tell you that we can make up for that with increased efficiency. True enough. But we would be even better off if we had the efficiency and the energy were cheaper. Either way we are poorer than we would have been without the taxes.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What I see is that wealthier and more technologically advanced countries seem to be creating cleaner and more efficient machinery just fine. Maybe, I dunno, more wealth and technological advance globally would help? What could make that happen?

  • ||

    Obviously the answer is government control of manufacturing and technology.

  • BarryD||

    We are already getting more and more efficient with energy use, without government "help". In spite of it, actually... And we have been improving that efficiency, consistently, for hundreds of years -- which is as long as we've been burning stuff to generate kinetic or electrical energy.

  • John||

    And we always will because energy is expensive. People will always try to be as efficient as possible.

  • Brett L||

    Eh. If energy were so relatively expensive, we wouldn't be driving 2.8L cars that are as efficient as the old 5.6L cars, we'd be driving 1.4L cars that were twice as efficient as the old 2.8L cars. It is relatively cheap, and only the fact that 7B people want to use the same amount of energy that the richest 1B used 20 years ago is driving the cost.

  • John||

    True. We will seek energy efficiency so long as the cost of doing so doesn't exceed its opportunity cost.

  • John||

    But even still Brett, we are always looking for more efficiency. 5.6 liter engines are much more efficient now than they were 30 years ago. Just because I don't only value efficiency doesn't mean I don't value it, other things being equal.

  • BarryD||

    I get around 30 MPG highway from a full-time AWD station wagon with tires that grip dry, wet and snow-covered pavement. When engines were commonly twice as big, tires had half the traction, and 2WD was the norm in everything short of a Jeep, cars got half that gas mileage, or worse, while providing less utility, safety, and even performance.

  • ||

    we wouldn't be driving 2.8L cars that are as efficient as the old 5.6L cars

    Engines and drivetrains and cars in general are much more fuel efficient than 20 or 40 years ago.

  • Brett L||

    And my point is that we always trade off between perceived values. The new 1.4L are fine for 90% of what people use 2.8L and larger engines for. But we want that little extra go. If energy were expensive, we'd all drive smaller, slower cars unless we made money by driving larger ones.

  • BarryD||

    That's not true. I drink booze that goes for $90 a bottle. I'm not rich, and I could get drunk for less. The fact that I choose to pay that for booze does not mean that $90 is cheap.

    You're right that we trade off. But you're wrong when you write "if energy were expensive, we'd..." That's not how it works.

  • BarryD||

    Those old 5.6L V8s developed about the same horsepower as a modern engine half the size, while burning twice the gas. The whole post is BS.

    The fact that people don't love to drive on high-speed Interstates with cars that develop 50 BHP doesn't take away the fact that, every year, consistently, we get more power from vehicles that burn less gasoline than their predecessors.

  • Dylan||

    Not bureaucrats.

  • John||

    Adler is no fool.

    The rest of the post indicates otherwise Ron.

  • BarryD||

    I think that was the joke...

  • wef||

    Adler is no fool. Discuss amongst yourselves.

    OK. Just by counting the number of times he uses "if" (fully rebated - ha!) and hypotheticals to excuse more intervention and new taxes (revenue neutral - ha!), it appears you just presented evidence contrary to your thesis that Adler is no fool.

    Maybe he's the type of libertarian the NPR folks love. We can win just by losing, a la Roberts.

  • ||

    But the very fact that he uses ifs and hypotheticals indicates that he is not certain that this should go into place tomorrow. If scientists come up with convincing evidence that this is a) abnormal and b) harmful, then I would agree with Adler.

  • robc||

    I havent done this in a long while:

    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE
    COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE COASE

  • John||

    I remember Coase from my economics classes. I know what the Coase theorem is. But I am lost as to how it applies here.

  • robc||

    This is one of the situations that Coase specifically discusses. Im trying to figure out how it doesnt apply?

  • John||

    Really? I remember Coase as saying that where transaction costs are zero, property will always go to the person who makes the most efficient use of it. So if you are for example selling off an old nationalized industry in a former communist country, you don't need to sell it. Just give it away, it will find its way to the owner who will make good use of it.

    How does that apply here? I am seriously lost or have forgotten about some other theorem of Coase'.

  • robc||

    Most of Coase's research was in the areas where transaction costs exist.

    You have to get beyond his theorem. He even thought that was a trivial case (but important).

  • John||

    So I ask again. What about Coase applies here? I am being serious.

  • robc||

    Short answer: Pigovian taxes are only efficient if the regulator knows that the polluter is the lowest cost avoider.

    And in that case, the regulation isnt needed under Coase, because with properly determined property rights, the polluter would be avoiding anyway.

  • BarryD||

    "...if the regulator knows..."

    What about if the regulator even gives a shit?

    Last I checked, energy companies that involved campaign donors seem to get the best treatment. Enron, Solyndra, Abound Solar, and a lot more -- and none of these companies actually ended up providing energy at a higher level of efficiency, if at all.

  • robc||

    What about if the regulator even gives a shit?

    Another point against Pigou.

  • BarryD||

    In the real world, game, set, match against Pigou.

  • robc||

    Here is David Friedman discussing this and other aspects of Coase's work.

    Notice one of the places it was originally published. :)

  • John||

    I knew all of that. I had just forgotten it is attributable to Coase. But even Coase admits that emissions fees are only efficient if the government knows what the cost associated with the pollution is. And that is virtually impossible here.

  • robc||

    Coase opposes emissions fees, thats the point. Thats Pigou.

    They are in opposition to each other.

  • robc||

    We need someone to make a series of rap videos entitled "Coase v Pigou".

    I guess its probably best to not do it why Coase is still alive, but Im impatient.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    By the same token, if the land of a farmer in Bangladesh is flooded, due in measurable and provable part to human-induced climate change, why would he be any less entitled to redress than a farmer who has his land flooded by his neighbor's land-use changes? Property rights should not be sacrificed as part of some utilitarian calculus.

    Because proving such a connection is not possible. All one needs to do is point out that climate has always been changing and will always continue to change without any help at all from humanity to destroy the notion it is possible to prove that any particular damage is due to AGW.

    Unless completely new phenomena crop up, one cannot prove that flooding or storms or what the fuck ever some greenie wants to attribute to climate change was actually caused by climate change. We have always had floods and storms and droughts and such. Glaciers have surely melted before, sea levels have fluctuated to the tunes of hundreds, if not thousands, of feet over time, and hurricanes have destroyed shit as far back as we have records for. How can the existence of more of what has always happened be proof of something new?

  • R C Dean||

    All one needs to do is point out that climate has always been changing and will always continue to change

    Not to mention that Bangladesh has always had floods, and will always continue to have floods.

  • Ron Bailey||

    Just like the Netherlands?

  • robc||

    Exactly. If Bangladesh doesnt want floods, build a series of intricate dykes.

  • Brett L||

    OR move somewhere without monsoons.

  • robc||

    The Sam Kenison solution to famine. Dont send rice, send u-hauls.

  • robc||

  • BarryD||

    "intricate dykes"

    The real problem with Bangladesh is that its dykes are bulldykes. Dutch dykes are the ones you want.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The Dutch overcame their flooding problems via the use of technology, not because the natural world around them changed.

  • robc||

    The Dutch overcame their flooding problems via the use of technology

    And referencing above, Im pretty sure the technological solution in Bangladesh would fit the coasean criteria. Since most of the benefit from a series of flood walls would be to help out against naturally occurring flooding, only a small percent of the cost of them would apply to the hypothetical future additional flooding.

    Which is almost assuredly a cheaper solution than a world-wide carbon tax.

  • SIV||

    I'm just going to guess, without looking at a map, that Bangladesh has a hell of a lot more floodplain than the Netherlands.

  • robc||

    Im going to guess, without looking up the stats, that Bangladesh has a hell of a lot more people than the Netherlands.

  • Juice||

    Just looked it up. Bangladesh has 3.5 times the land area as the Netherlands and 9.25 times the population.

  • John||

    One you couldn't prove it. And two you couldn't prove who was responsible. Every human being on the planet emits carbon. Under what legal regime would you be able to allocate liability in such circumstances?

    This whole thing is just sophistry. Yes, the guy in Bangledesh's property rights are sacred. But so are mine and everyone else's in the world. And no one should have their property taxed or taken to pay for harm that they were not the proximate cause of.

  • T o n y||

    You're right that precisely measuring liability is impossible (though science is getting better every day at attributing specific weather events to climate change), which is why a property-rights based approach is inferior to a regulatory approach.

    We don't know exactly how much damage will be done, but we do know that a lot of damage will be done (and is being done) by specific activities, and we also know that we can mitigate these things with some technological advancement/deployment and policy shifts, if only the people who profit from the status quo didn't have so much influence over policy and public debate.

  • Dylan||

    "...the people who profit from the status quo..." You mean the poor. The people whose daily expenses are overwhelmingly determined by energy costs. It's not the rich who will suffer with $6/gallon gas.

  • Dylan||

    *status quo strictly referring to low energy costs.

  • T o n y||

    Climate change will harm the poor people of the earth first. Solar power is essentially free, which is the reason the oil companies don't like it. Notice how every alternative they get behind requires them to drill for something and control its distribution?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Solar power is not "essentially free", you disingenuous tard. In fact, it's astronomically expensive to set up solar arrays large enough to supply the same amount of power one currently uses.

  • T o n y||

    I know, I know, humans have a limitless capacity to innovate their way out of problems... except this one.

    As of 2011, the cost of PV has fallen well below that of nuclear power and is set to fall further. The average retail price of solar cells as monitored by the Solarbuzz group fell from $3.50/watt to $2.43/watt over the course of 2011, and a decline to prices below $2.00/watt seems inevitable.

    For large-scale installations, prices below $1.00/watt are now common. In some locations, PV has reached grid parity, the cost at which it is competitive with coal or gas-fired generation. More generally, it is now evident that, given a carbon price of $50/ton, which would raise the price of coal-fired power by 5c/kWh, solar PV will be cost-competitive in most locations. The declining price of PV has been reflected in rapidly growing installations, totalling about 23 GW in 2011. Although some consolidation is likely in 2012, as firms try to restore profitability, strong growth seems likely to continue for the rest of the decade. Already, by one estimate, total investment in renewables for 2011 exceeded investment in carbon-based electricity generation.
  • Coeus||

    And the second that PV gets popular, the watermelons will start bitching about the toxic manufacturing process. Anyone want to put some money on that?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    So your argument is that human innovation can't save us, then as an example of what can save us you give us a . . . human innovation.

    If solar really is cheap enough and can provide us with adequate amounts of power for now and the future, you can rest assured that we will adopt it, no force necessary.

  • Dylan||

    That's right, my bad. I forgot that the oil companies also control the trees that the solar cells grow on.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    if only the people who profit from the status quo climate change alarmism didn't have so much influence over policy and public debate.

    FIFY

  • mr simple||

    (though science is getting better every day at attributing specific weather events to climate change)

    This is not science! Science is studying weather and finding causes, not trying to attribute a cause. I'm sure if they tried hard enough someone could find something to point to and say Climate Change!, bu that wouldn't make it true.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    A free market approach with figuring cost efficient ways to deal with the localized effects of climate change, if there are any which warrant mitigation, is the best solution, not regulations.

  • Translucent Chum||

    I thought weather wasn't climate. I'm confused.

  • T o n y||

    You're not alone.

  • Translucent Chum||

    It's hard to keep up. When it was freezing and dumping two feet of snow out east, it was weather. When it was hot for two weeks, it was climate change.

  • T o n y||

    It's not hard to understand that climate change will result in different weather, right? Attributing a specific weather event to climate change may be difficult, but it's becoming less so to attribute specific weather patterns.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Shorter Tony: when it dumps snow it's just weather, but when it gets really fucking hot and it fits the narrative, it's climate change.

    Forget that the weather pattern we are currently experiencing, at least locally here in Central KY, is exactly the same as during the mid 30s. Exceeding wet year, followed by a wet, warm winter, followed by an exceedingly hot, dry summer. This hot as fuck weather is NOTHING NEW, yet the alarmists are trying desperately to act as if it's all new. We've seen this EXACT PATTERN BEFORE, and long before climate change mattered.

  • Drake||

    They must have had some climate change on June 28, 1778. During the Battle of Monmouth (New Jersey) the temperature exceeded 100 degrees.

  • sasob||

    If the tax is to be rebated, what is the point of collecting it in the first place, other than to redistribute wealth - with a hefty chunk of it being redistributed in the form of salaries to an increased number of government employees?

    And if the point is to influence behavior by discouraging people from using energy, what is to dissuade those who receive rebates from spending them on the consumption of more energy?

    Lastly, without cheap energy costs how does anyone expect the economy to improve?

  • sasob||

    Or perhaps that is the whole point: it is not intended that the economy should improve - or rather, some economies.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I believe the United States should adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax....

    Adler is no fool.

    Adler is CLEARLY a fool.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Also, it's painfully obvious why the moron who wrote this HR post left his/her name off it. My guess: Bailey.

  • ||

    Guess who else was in favor of a carbon tax?

  • Dylan||

    Guess who is getting tired of this meme?

  • mr simple||

    Ben Hitler?

  • Mike M.||

    We might as well put Martin O'Malley, the C.E.O. of Pepco, and the Montgomery County Council in charge of the entire nation's energy policy. Much less evil carbon will be spewed into the atmosphere, we can all go back to living that awesome and pristine 18th century lifestyle, and yet still pay the full 21st century rate, plus additional surchage.

  • John||

    The people of Maryland voted for that stupid bastard. Even though I was affected by it. I still think most of the state got what was coming to it. You really have to be a brain dead idiot to vote for O'Malley.

  • ||

    A carbon tax, really? Go fuck yourself.

  • Rasilio||

    There are several flaws in Alders argument.

    1st) There is no logical basis to determine how large the tax should be.

    2nd) Simply rebating the income from the tax in no way compensates anyone harmed by Global Warming.

    3rd) It is effectively impossible for that farmer in Bangladesh to prove that the flood which damaged his fields was caused by Global Warming, Bahgladesh has been having Monsoon driven floods for Millennia. Finally even if it was possible to prove such you would have the problem that much if not most of the Carbon which caused this specific event was put into the atmosphere years or even decades earlier and many of the "guilty" are now dead.

  • #||

    This is an issue with a tax too. If the damage associated with some degree of warming is only a rough guestimate and the warming associated with any level of C02 is a guesstimate, how are you going to determine what a corrective tax should be?

    You are just as liking to do more damage overall via a too high tax then doing nothing at all.

    Plus, a tax does nothing different than rising fossil fuel prices don't already do. The rise in oil prices plus the natural gas boom have done more to reduce CO2 in the US that the Kyoto authors ever dreamed would happen?

    So 1. how the hell do you figure out a tax?

    and 2, if fossil fuel rices are rising anyway, why is their such a rush to implement a tax?

  • John||

    To make the tax efficient you would have to have near perfect knowledge of

    1. The cost of global warming
    2. The relationship between fossil fuel use and global warming
    3. The elasticity of fossil fuel demand.

    Only if you knew those three things perfectly could you properly set a carbon tax that reduced carbon emissions enough to reduce the cost of global warming.

    And even if you knew those things that still wouldn't mean that any tax would be efficient. It is entirely possible that the costs associated with global warming are either so low or so high to prevent that no tax would ever be efficient.

    And that doesn't even consider the fact that you will never have those three pieces of information with any certainty. A carbon tax is just foolishness. It disappoints me that Bailey believes this shit.

  • robc||

    In many ways, its the economic calculation problem all over again.

  • Dylan||

    You would also have to prove that the cost of global warming is greater than the cost of higher energy prices

  • John||

    That is what I mean in my last paragraph. It is entirely possible, in fact likely, that no carbon tax would ever be efficient.

  • #||

    John,

    The thing is i wouldn't mind a modest carbon tax if it replaced some other tax on income, but to place a tax on it in the name of global warming seems impossible to calculate. Never mind that fact that ever if you could calculate it, the values are subjective. Who get's to say what the dollar value of slightly changed weather is?

  • #||

    Plus its quite possible that existing taxes on carbon fuels are already correcting the damage if the CO2 damage is modest.

  • Rasilio||

    Yes a carbon tax as an alternative to income taxes is probably on net a good idea, but then so is any shift from income to consumption based taxes. Thing is that tax revenue would not be simply rebated to the public in the vain hope that it compensated for global warming caused losses somehow, it would displace existing taxes to fund general government revenues.

  • sasob||

    This is an issue with a tax too. If the damage associated with some degree of warming is only a rough guestimate and the warming associated with any level of C02 is a guesstimate, how are you going to determine what a corrective tax should be?

    That's easy; they'll do what government has always done - make it as high as they can get away with politically.

  • blackjack||

    Headline from outer space:

    Carbon based life forms outlaw themselves, in desperate attempt to alter their own climate. First to go: their means of survival!

  • Gladstone||

    So libertarians for more taxes? Really? And is there such a thing as a "revenue neutral tax"?

  • sasob||

    And is there such a thing as a "revenue neutral tax"?

    Hmm, maybe wherein the cost of collecting it equals the revenue collected - sort of like when a thief pays himself a salary for robbing you.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler (who is former CEI staffer and a friend) emailed to remind me that some libertarians are concerned about the property rights implications of man-made global warming and how to redress the damage being caused to third parties by emitting carbon dioxide. "

    Well first you have to prove that there IS any man made global warming.

    AND - like all affirmative condition claims, you are required to prove it to be so with unequivical and absolute definitiveness. Or you've proven absolutely nothing at all.

  • T o n y||

    you are required to prove it to be so with unequivical and absolute definitiveness

    Really?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Absolutely.

  • T o n y||

    Science only deals in probabilities. You can't absolutely and definitively prove anything. And when talking about human action in response to evidence you really should applying the precautionary principle anyway.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    " You can't absolutely and definitively prove anything"

    On the contrary, it has been absolutely and definitively proven that you are an authority on absolutely nothing.

  • sasob||

    Especially so, if one is speaking legally.

  • Rasilio||

    It has been proven as effectively as anything in a chaotic system can be proven that yes man made global warming exists.

    What has not been proven is that it is actually a problem to be concerned about.

  • Laird||

    So many problems with this proposal, so little space.

    First, it assumes the problem. Climate change does occur, naturally, but there is no actual evidence (merely flawed computer models) proving that temperatures are actually going up (all the evidence in the last decade is to the contrary) or that human activity has any measurable effect on it. This is all hypothetical and very much in dispute.

    Still, assuming that premise, probably the worst way to deal with such an externality is for the government to impose a tax. It will never be "revenue neutral", but will invariably become an income source for government and yet another means of rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Giving more money and power to politicians is never the answer. The flooded farmer in Bangladesh will never seen any of that money; it will remain in the hands of politicians and kleptocrats (redundant, I know).

    And what's always forgotten is that this won't be a sudden flood, but a slow accretion over decades. We will all (even that farmer) have lots of time to adjust: move inland somewhat, build dikes, etc. There has been no serious cost-benefit analysis by anyone; people like Adler are content to cry that the sky is falling without recognizing that those pieces of sky might have value, or that putting up an umbrella may cost more than the small amount of damage they cause. Any libertarian who supports a carbon tax either hasn't given it any serious thought or is not really a libertarian.

  • Russell Seitz ||

    Laird's claim to intellectual seriousness is about as plausible as that of the Discovery Institute.

    Woe betide the Reason Foundation, if , witness the AEI shenanigans, it turns into another think tank equivalent of a Failed State.

    Ideology happens, and we have already seen one living embodiment of religious conservatism's metaphysical aversion to materialism put the intellectual reputation of conservatism at risk by abandoning the field in the science wars.

    Dysfunctional in technical debate, fact averse institutions tend to abandon science policy , trying instead to forestall the future by turning scientific fictions into received political facts.

    That salient can pays ersatz think tanks handsomely as old line conservative journals become media outlets for K-Street press releases and commercial propaganda.

    I hope Reason doesn't follow suit.

  • IceTrey||

    OMG! The solution to the worlds energy needs and carbon emissions was invented 45 years ago at Oak Ridge, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. Talking about anything else is bullshit and a waste of time.

  • Gladius||

    I can not think of any argument for Carbon taxes. It is just insane. Such a tax is the opposite of economic freedome and would crush an open market system byond repair.

  • jdgalt||

    The tax is a good idea given Adler's assumptions -- but he assumes way too much. Proponents still need to prove, not only (1) that Earth is heating up, but also (2) that it's harmful, (3) that curtailing man's use of carbon-based energy sources can make a significant difference, and (4) that alternative schemes to fix the problem, such as Benford's bargeload of iron filings, won't do the job better, faster, and cheaper.

    Oh, and don't bother to cite in your proof any of the people shown to be liars by the Climategate e-mails, or anyone funded by the institutions that whitewashed that scandal. (Read "The Hockey Stick Illusion" for the dirty details.)

    No one at Reason should need to be told this.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Bailey's undermining opposition to the carbon tax just as he did with the individual health insurance mandate.

    Thanks a pantload.

  • Coeus||

    He's entitled to his own opinion. I'm more concerned with posts that start off with "What to think about...". To me, those do far, far more to undermine our positions.

  • VangelV||

    Adler seems like a fool to me. Given the fact that the data shows that we are cooler today than we have for most of the past 10,000 years and that it is the sun, not CO2 levels that is the primary driver of temperature trend changes there is no property rights issue in the AGW mythology to concern ourselves about. And even if we assume that temperatures will go up who is to say that the harm will outweigh the benefits? After all, the supposed warming reduced frost damage and increased agricultural yields across the globe. Does that mean that farmers have to pay coal burning utilities for the benefits?

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