Thursday, January 7, 2016

Paying Your Way

For pollution and hay

Just a short post as I harp on some familiar themes. But two recent articles struck a chord.

In his Washington Post column, Charles Lane doubts the value of electric vehicle (EV) subsidies:
In September 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the U.S. government was on course to subsidize EV production and sales to the tune of $7.5 billion through 2019. We might have gotten more carbon reduction, sooner, if the government had spent that much money on things other than tax breaks for well-to-do [Elon] Musk groupies. Retrofitting coal plants to burn natural gas comes to mind. Or nuclear power.
While over at the Cato Institute, Randal O'Toole skews favor-seeking ranchers:
Decades ago, ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands paid enough fees to earn the Forest Service a profit. But in 1978, ranchers persuaded Congress to adopt a grazing fee formula on national forests and BLM lands that is designed to guarantee ranchers a profit even as grazing costs taxpayers more than $100 million per year. Thus, many people, including some agency officials, view the ranchers as freeloaders and their livestock as invasive species damaging the habitat for native fish and wildlife.
I disagree with Mr. Lane that tax breaks are the the way to go on carbon reduction. But based on his retweet I think he agrees that economic disincentives such as a carbon tax offer an efficient policy solution to pollution and other externalities. And I wholly agree with Mr. O'Toole that economic causes need representatives that are "willing to pay their own way and not rely on taxpayer subsidies".

Producers must bear the full cost of their production (internal as well as the cost of harmful byproducts) just as consumers must bear the full cost of their consumption and have those costs reflected in the price paid for goods and services. Too often government picks winners and plays favorites with producers because its actions are immediately focused and beneficial to producers whereas the detrimental effects to the environment, the competitive landscape, and taxpayers are long term and diffuse.

In the current political environment where government is the Bad Guy and taxes are evil, it would take a leader of epic stature to change the tenor of the conversation. Here's hoping.