This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Selling Carbon (and other Sin) Taxes

Carbon Taxes, like any pollution or sin tax, are an attempt to capture the externalities associated with a transcation that are not captured in the price. Put more briefly, carbon taxes make customers who buy products which cause global warming pay for the environmental damage caused by their use of these products. The goal behind these taxes is to lessen consumption of these products and reimburse society for the harm done. The significant danger behind such levies is that they become a cash cow, which gives society an interest in setting the tax low enough that the behavior goes on. This is called codepenency in the recovery community - and it is not good. The way out of such codependent relationships is to designate all funds collected from carbon taxes (and other sin taxes) toward government spending designed to reduce or eliminate the undesireable behavior. That way, when the behavior is eliminated, the program to counteract the behavior is eliminated too.

For tobacco taxes, instead of using these funds as a cash cow, it would be better to fund smoking cessation and heart disease, cancer and COPD (formerly emphysema) treatment and research, as well as programs to help tobacco farmers find an alternate crop (such as fish farming). If taxes are not high enough to adequately fund all the consequences, the tax would be raised. If all programs are well funded and there is money left over, the taxes would be decreased.

Alcohol taxes would fund both addiction prevention and treatment and the criminal justice systems, since alcohol is the most likely gateway drug to other substances and because it is also responsible for the vast majority of violent and property crimes. If marijuana and other drugs were made legal, they could be taxed as well - although other drugs such as meth, heroin and crack cocaine would still be considered dangerous and use considered grounds for mandatory inpatient treatment (rather than incarceration). If taxes on alcohol and drugs are too low to fund needed treatment and incarceration activities, they would be raised. While most people who imbibe do not cause negative consequences to society, a minority of users who are alcoholic or addicted consume most of the alcohol and drugs sold, so these consumers would pay most of the taxes and use most of the required services. Of course, taxes should not be so high that black market sources of supply are encouraged.

Carbon taxes hold the most promise for identifying offsetting spending programs. The way to sell these taxes is to link already popular spending programs to the tax, rather than to the general fund. Gas taxes should become a carbon tax and be allocated for both advanced transportation research as well as road building and mass transit, including Amtrack. Reforestation would also be funded by carbon taxes. All hydro-electric projects performed by the Corps of Engineers should be funded by Carbon Taxes, as well as new nuclear power plants and the Office of Fusion Energy. Indeed, carbon taxes should be increased enough to accelerate this research beyond the current timetable, since Helium-3 Fusion reactors are both absolutely save and emissions free. Once the technology is fully developed, it will be commercially viable on its own and will eliminate the need for almost all mechanical emissions of carbon gasses for power, industry and transportation. Putting the pork barrel lobby behind the carbon tax cannot but help hurry the day where this is possible.


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