Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mavericky Goodness on "Cap and Trade"

How long ago was it that we had a guy named John McCain, along with a running mate named Sarah Palin, proposing how to address carbon emissions? What did he call his plan, again... could it have been cap and trade? And he's been proposing various "cap and trade" schemes since... 2003, if not earlier? The conflict with Obama's plan appears to focus on how permits are allocated - Obama supports an auction, while McCain proposed a giveaway to the nation's biggest polluters.

For quite some time, opponents of caps on carbon emissions have been trying to come up with a catchy way to make fun of "cap and trade". Their problem seems to be that the term "cap and trade" sounds innocuous, but at the same time is very difficult to understand. (So we have McCain arguing for years in favor of "cap and trade", but now arguing that it's bad if permits to pollute are obtained through auction as opposed to being distributed, for free, to big polluters who (presumably) would then profit handsomely by selling permits they did not actually need to smaller companies. The "best" term they've come up with so far is "cap and tax", which is also "clear as mud" to anybody who isn't familiar with the concept of "cap and trade". It's policy formation on the level of Beavis and Butthead ("Heheheh. He said 'tax'. Heheheheheheh.) The sad part is, such "rebranding" has been quite successful at times in the past - just ask Frank Luntz.

Whatever it's merit, "cap and tax" is now part of the Republical lexicon, to be used at all times - even by erstwhile supporters of "cap and trade" like John McCain. I would like to see him explain how his "cap and trade" proposal would limit pollution without imposing any cost on anybody, but... what sort of self-respecting reporter would ask such a direct and relevant question to a maverick? Oh, the horror of imposing a tax on business during a recession. We should instead... impose a massive tax increase on middle class wage earners who receive employer-sponsored health care, right? (Starting with McCain, there appears to be huge Republican support for that tax increase, but they are quite coordinated in their refusal to acknowledge it as such.)

In any event, somebody handed Sarah Palin the party memo on "cap and tax" or, perhaps more realistically, handed her a completed editorial and said, "Hey, why don't you submit this to the Washington Post?" And sure enough, now the Post offers a platitudinous regurgitation of the anti-"cap and tax" talking points under Palin's byline. She offers claims like this:
There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn't lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America's economy.
Okay, let's assume that Obama's "cap and trade" will "destroy the economy", while the McCain/Palin model will not. Palin is clearly depicting herself (somebody ignorant of her own state's energy production) as an expert on the issue. She is being given a grand opportunity to make her case to the American public right on the pages of the Washington Post. As you have probably already guessed, she offers up plenty of nothing.
The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.
Oh, what a cute little dig at "liberals". From somebody whose running mate used to unabashedly admit that he didn't understand economics, and who has little apparent understanding of economics herself. Pot, kettle, and all that.

All Palin manages to do in the article is shill for existing energy interests - Alaska's oil and gas industry, and coal producers - and impliedly for major polluters. Not one idea on reducing carbon emissions. Not one suggestion of how Obama's plan could be improved. Her intellectual gas tank, it seems, is empty.

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