Because It is Not News Until It is on Comedy Central; Or, Carbon Taxes Their Brains

Michael Giberson

Carbon tax and cap-and-trade fun, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and bloggers at Common Tragedies.

In brief: on Monday the WSJ lead editorial complained about the distributional effects of cap-and-trade, correctly noting that the effect of pricing carbon would depend on consumption but misleadingly illustrated with a chart based on carbon-emitting production by state.  Two economists at Resources for the Future sent a letter to the editor pointing out the problem, and after the WSJ said it would not run the letter, one of the economists – Rich Sweeney – posted it on his blog at Common Tragedies.

Subtlety being the soul of blogging, he headlined the post: “The Wall Street Journal is an idiot.”

This morning at CT, Sweeney is back with, “Write a letter to the editor, and nobody cares. Call someone an idiot on the internet and…….”

The answer is: get your letter published in the WSJ. Nearby on the editorial page is a rejoinder, where the editorialists, in their words, “try to take their [the RFF economists’] argument seriously.” [What?  Does this mean the first editorial was done without considering recently published work by the mainstream-if-slightly-staid folks at the pre-eminient environmental policy think tank?  I guess for the second editorial, the difference was that the WSJ editors were actually wearing their thinking caps.]

Elsewhere in the house of WSJ, Environmental Capital blogger Keith Johnson pulls up a chair ringside, “Knockdown, Dragout: Think Tank v. WSJ Edit Page on Cap-and-Trade.”

Johnson concluded:

The RFF guys responded this morning: “Now the question is whether the WSJ really cares about the true net effect of carbon policy on households in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, or if they’re simply clinging to any story that will allow them to politically undermine cap and trade.”

It’s certainly fodder for a lively debate. The only thing that would make it better would be moving it to Comedy Central.

I’m all for getting this debate onto Comedy Central.  We will be talking about cap-and-trade and carbon taxes in a few weeks in the Energy Economics class.

Students here are leaving for Spring Break this afternoon.  I figure Comedy Central is about the only chance I have got to get a serious energy econ idea entertained by even a handful of students for the next 9 days.

[Note to Jon Stewart: Call me.  I can play straight man.]

3 thoughts on “Because It is Not News Until It is on Comedy Central; Or, Carbon Taxes Their Brains

  1. So who started questioning who’s motives first?

    Saying that the WSJ doesn’t care about Michigan is just low. And irrelevant.

  2. First, the argument is over the details of a “wish” about which no details exist.

    Second, the argument focuses on the lower cost aspects of the “wish”; that is, the government “take” from the process, the method by which the government collects its “take” and how the government redistributes the “take”.

    The argument ignores the fundamental issue of whether it makes sense for the US to restrict carbon emissions, particularly in light of the abominable performances of the original Kyoto signatories and the expressed intentions of China and India not to restrict carbon emissions. It appears, amazingly, that the Administration intends to go to “war” on climate change without a coalition. (Cheap Iraq critique reference here.)

    The argument also ignores the expressed purpose of either “cap & trade” or a “carbon tax”; that is, supposedly, to reduce US carbon emissions, thus to “save the globe” from imminent, catastrophic destruction. If the Administration’s “wish” is actually “80% by 2050”, the government “take”, almost however large, pales in comparison with the investments which would be required to actually reduce the carbon emissions.

    My estimate of the investment required to achieve “80% by 2050” is ~$700 billion per year over the period. The IEA has estimated $45 trillion globally to achieve a 50% reduction by 2050, which would suggest $100 trillion+ globally to get to 80%, since the greater the reduction the more expensive it becomes.

    The focus should not be on the massiveness and method of the government “take”, but rather on the massive impact of the investments required and the likely loss of jobs to developing countries which have no intention of reducing emissions.

  3. Re: “The argument ignores the fundamental issue of whether it makes sense for the US to restrict carbon emissions.”

    Exactly the case, for both parties. (Though presumably someone at RFF has tried addressing that question elsewhere, the the present authors simply assume. And, for that matter, I’m guessing the WSJ has reached a conclusion on whether it makes sense as well, in some earlier editorial piece.)

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