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The Broken Politics of the Carbon Tax

Thomas Friedman’s column this weekend, on his frustration with the political system for keeping carbon taxes off the table, ends with a nice mention of AI editor Adam Garfinkle’s latest ebook, Broken: American Political Dysfunction And What To Do About It. Why is any kind of meaningful reform difficult, asks Friedman?

First, because our democracy today is perverted more than ever by deep-pocketed lobbies and oligopolies. So, “in order to get and stay elected today, you have to raise huge sums of money from corporations, wealthy individuals and dues-laden unions,” Garfinkle notes, and all that money leads to “twisted decision-making at the high-politics level” and “regulatory capture” at the bureaucratic-administrative level. The fossil fuel, auto and power companies have bought a lot of politicians to block a carbon tax.

The only way around them, argues Garfinkle, would be for leaders to galvanize the public, but that requires building “governing coalitions” in the center rather than “political coalitions” that can get you elected but little else after that. Obama is belatedly trying to do that; the Republican Party hasn’t even tried. “This is what real leaders do,” said Garfinkle. “They change the conversation.” They don’t just read the polls; they shape the polls.

But we can’t put this all on lobbyists. It’s also our generation. “We’re the most self-indulgent generation in American history,” argues Garfinkle, always demanding more services than we’re ready to pay for. “Too many of us want to be unbound by broader social obligations, but the network of those obligations creates the moral ballast that makes good governance possible.”

Read the whole thing. And buy Adam’s thought-provoking ebook while you’re at it.

As to Friedman’s specific policy proposal, Via Meadia has long thought that a revenue neutral carbon tax that eliminates payroll taxes and helps cut corporate taxes would be a good idea. Such policy accelerates our shift to an information-intensive economy, it takes the economic burden off job creation, and it removes the most regressive element in the tax system. A carbon tax would be a good thing even if there were no such thing as global warming. And partly for that reason, the green movement should be thinking harder and more creatively about it.

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