No, the 'conservative response to climate change' is not a carbon tax

Headshot image of Herman Cain
Published by: Herman Cain on Sunday February 12th, 2017

Sorry, nervous old-school Republicans.

We’ve often argued on this site that the real reason liberals talk about global warming – oh, sorry, “climate change” – is that it serves as a convenient excuse to implement the policies they want anyway. The public won’t support massive taxes and crushing regulation on business, so Democrats insist there is a global emergency whose only possible solution is, amazingly, these very policies.

We have to! It’s an emergency!

We are skeptical of man-made global warming, but even if it was real, we would not support the liberal prescriptions because we believe the answer would have to come from technology advancements that originate in the private sector. Want to stop global warming? Invent the clean-burning emission technology that would significantly reduce carbon emissions, and you’ll make yourself fabulously rich while solving the problem.

This should be the position of all conservatives. Even if you don’t believe in man-made global warming, we all want less pollution and cleaner air. It’s just that conservatives don’t want to cripple business to get it. So encourage business to solve the problem on its own and everyone wins.

But apparently there are two conservatives – well, Republicans anyway – who don’t see it that way. Writing this past week in the Wall Street Journal, former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz (Reagan) and James A. Baker III (Bush 41) argued that the conservative response to “climate change” should be the very carbon tax liberals dream of.

Why? Their argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It would be temporary, you see, and it would be used to “return the proceeds to the American taxpayers in the form of dividends.” It would be accompanied by supposed regulatory relief. Oh, and supposedly it would serve as the incentive necessary to bring about the technology advancements mentioned above. Seriously:

This carbon dividends program would help steer the U.S. toward a path of more durable economic growth by encouraging technological innovation and large-scale substitution of existing energy sources. It would also provide much-needed regulatory relief to U.S. industries. Companies, especially those in the energy sector, finally would have the predictability they now lack, removing one of the most serious impediments to capital investment.

So let me see if I have this straight: Enacting a carbon tax would provide companies in the energy sector “predictability” so that when they make capital investments in clean-burning technology, they can be sure of . . . what, exactly? Is the theory that they’ll either pay for the technology upgrade or pay the tax, so they might as well pay for the upgrade? I’m not sure Shultz and Baker are correctly understanding how incentives work. It’s easier to write a check to the government than it is to write a check and undergo disruptive work on your plant. If cost was the thing preventing industry from going clean and green, there’s no reason to think this idea would move them toward it.

But the truth is companies are already interested in the cleanest possible technology. No one wants to pollute. But the technology has to be reliable and affordable. The innovator who does the best job of bringing such a product to market will be able to retire early. No one will have to threaten businesses with a carbon tax to get them to buy it.

That said, haven’t these two gentlemen been around long enough to know that no tax is ever “temporary”? Payroll withholding was instituted in the 1940s as a “temporary” measure during World War II. You may have noticed they’re still withholding money from your paycheck. And seriously, “returning the tax proceeds to the American people in the form of dividends”? How about just not taking it from us in the first place?

Conservatives have got to stop falling for this trap. Liberals keep insisting that conservatives should get in the game and offer solutions to “climate change” rather than be “deniers.” But once you concede man-made global warming and start offering “solutions,” the left and their media allies will pound on these ideas an woefully insufficient because, they think, the private sector will never really get serious about the environment.

No. Shultz and Baker have been around long enough to know that proposing a carbon tax to address “climate change” is a total surrender. It’s conceding every premise of the left and agreeing to play the game on their turf, and on their terms.

Conservative never win by doing that.

Get your copy of Herman Cain’s new book, The Right Problems Solutions, here!