10 October 2019

Some observations on the carbon tax

A carbon tax now, in 2019, it too little, too late; it's the kind of hinting-and-nudging tweak-the-feedback social engineering that would have been useful in 1980. (A carbon tax today is entirely like telling a heart attack victim they should have taken up daily walks twenty years ago.)  Today, the appropriate policy on the user side is draconian fossil carbon rationing with a five year goal of a zero ration for all users.  (If you [cut by 80% every year for five years] made this year's ration 80% of last year's ration, you'd still be over 30% of the original ration in year six.  This is no, no, we're going to zero.)  The appropriate policy on the source side is "stop that", Ultima Ratio Regum.

In the general case, emissions taxes -- if it isn't actually, observably, measurably reused, recycled, or rotted back into a thriving[1] biosphere, it's an emission -- are a good thing.  They provide pressure to close the loop.  We could do with some.  The problem is the idea of sufficiency.

Sufficiency would mean full industrial mobilization, economic rationalization, and just generally acting like there was a twentieth-century style full mobilization war on to replace the economy really fast.  It would have side effects that involved causing the current crop of rich and powerful to stop being, and the suburban land use pattern to go away.  These things are not inside the domains of good or bad; these things are in the domain of necessity.  If we want to have a machine civilization, we need to do at least that much.  (Giving up machine civilization during catastrophic climate change is not much like a sensible plan.)

It is to my mind extremely telling that the arguments against the carbon tax are that it represents an unbearable financial burden on working Canadians.

One the one hand, this is really terrible accounting; when the roof leaks, the sooner you fix it, the less it costs.  This is exactly that sort of situation, and we've waited until there's leaks down into the basement and rot in most of the metaphorical joists.  This won't be cheap; waiting won't improve matters; one way or the other, we're going to pay.  It would be sensible to try to get something we want.

On the other hand, absolutely no one has pointed out that the problem is not that taxes are too high -- given everything that we really must be doing immediately if not sooner, taxes are much too low and much too insufficiently progressive -- but that wages are to low. It's as though there is a terrible curse upon human knowledge and discourse, that there can be no knowledge of value -- that ratio of benefit to cost -- only of prices, and false -- meaning someone set them, there isn't a consensus on worth -- prices at that.  This is what's going on with labour; the idea that you could, perhaps, pay people more is maybe not unthinkable -- how could you tell? -- but it's completely unsayable.

(And the NDP are still to the right of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives, because the NDP still aren't saying "raise wages" or "spend on industry".)

[1] None of biological diversity nor biological disparity nor five year population averages of key species are decreasing.


Unknown said...

"If you cut by 80% every year for five years, you'd still be over 30% of the original ration in year six." I think you mean you cut by 20% per year. Cutting by 80% gives you after year 1 .2 emission
2 .04
3 .008
4 .0016
5 .00032


Graydon said...

@Tim -- entirely correct! post edited to say what I meant, which is "if you make this year 80% of last year".