The Second-Worst Thing About the GOP Becoming the Batshitloonitarian Party: The Carbon Reduction Edition

Of course, the worst thing about the GOP becoming the batshitloonitarian party is, as I’ve noted before, they are batshitloonitarians. But one thing it also does is transform merely sane, although not very good, options, into ‘liberal’ policies, when, in a sane political system, they would be realized as the conservative policies they actually are. David Roberts describes this in the context of a carbon tax (boldface mine):

I’m not sure I would call carbon-pricing solutions right-wing, but I do think it’s fair to characterize them as conservative. Conservative economic thinking prefers a minimum of government intervention in the economy. Sending a carbon-pricing signal via a tax or cap is a minimalist intervention, as technology and industry agnostic as policy can be. If the revenue is used to reduce the deficit or other taxes (income or payroll), then the policy is even more solidly conservative, as both are conservative priorities.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Just because carbon pricing is conservative doesn’t mean it’s bad or undesirable. I, like virtually everyone who’s thought seriously about the problem (which excludes Heritage), see a substantial role for carbon pricing. I’m just saying it is a solution designed to align with conservative principles, endorsed by both Chicago school and neoliberal economists.

So what would liberal climate policy be?

As I see it, liberal climate policy would involve more planning — developing and deploying new energy sources, new technologies, and new urban forms on purpose, as part of a plan to remake the economy along sustainable lines. There are obviously many varieties and gradations of planning, from the Chinese approach all the way down to, say, building codes. Public investment, performance standards, industrial policy, job training programs, mandates, tariffs, and a variety of other regulations would qualify as liberal, in that they represent more active government shaping of the economy.

The odd thing that’s happened in climate circles in the last few decades is not just that the (generally liberal) environmental community has fervently championed “market-based” solutions like carbon pricing, but that the activist left in particular has adopted a carbon tax as its cri de coeur. Especially during and since the climate bill fight, the debate among climate hawks is often framed such that cap-and-trade is the “right” choice and a carbon tax is the “left” choice. That doesn’t make any sense at all on the merits — the only differences between the two, economically speaking, come in the design and implementation, mainly in what’s done with the revenue. As I said, both are basically conservative in their approach.

Nonetheless, that’s the odd situation we are in today: an intra-left battle between two conservative policy solutions.

Roberts is correct. In fact, I would argue that any policy that does not take into account housing is not a serious policy. That’s not going to happen through market-based initiatives.

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