07/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Carbon Tax? We Don't Need No Carbon Tax, We Already Have One.

Lots of greens like the idea of a carbon tax, as a way of making users of fossil fuels pay the real cost of externalities like pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. When Al Gore proposed them in his book Earth in the Balance, " Republicans attacked him as a "dangerous fanatic". In 2000, when Gore ran for President, one commentator labeled Gore's carbon tax proposal a "central planning solution" harking back to "the New Deal politics of his father." (WP)

In fact, many conservatives like the idea of carbon taxes, as tax consumption rather than income. Conservative Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay writes in the National Post:

A carbon tax can actually make government smaller.
Kay suggests that a single carbon tax could replace ethanol subsidies, fuel economy standards, and toll booths "through one simple, fine-tunable microeconomic mechanism"

A carbon tax is a (relatively) flat tax.

Conservatives love flat consumption taxes "chip away at the massive bias against the wealthy contained in our "progressive" income tax system." Right.

A carbon tax would fight terrorism and rogue power.
"This point cannot be repeated often enough -- especially for the benefit of those red-meat conservatives cruising around with right-wing bumper stickers affixed to the back of their eight-cylinder pick-up trucks: When we pay US$140 a barrel for oil, we are enriching some of the most dangerous regimes on earth -- including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran."

In North America today, we are all feeling the effects that were projected for a carbon tax; we are driving less, SUV sales have tanked, McMansions are being abandoned, wind and solar are booming, as are bike sales and transit use. The problem is, instead of collecting the carbon tax and using the money for conservation or alternative energy or even reducing income taxes, we are paying the tax to Big Oil, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran.

Economist Jim Stanford, as far left on the political spectrum as Jonathan Kay is right, notes in Progressive Economics that people would rioting in the streets if the government had imposed a two buck a gallon carbon tax. " Yet people accept that oil companies can do the same thing (and use the money for themselves, rather than the public good). Sure, people complain. But they accept it. This is Marx's "fetishism of the market" raised to a whole new level."

Stanford concludes: "The real issue shouldn't be whether or not carbon should become more expensive. It already is -- far more dramatically than even the most raving environmentalist would have dared propose two years ago. The real issue is who pockets the tax revenue, and what they do with it. And why on earth people accept as "natural" or "inevitable" this blatant profiteering by private corporations."

The debate about carbon taxes is over; we are already paying them, and they are working the way environmentalists said they would. Let's torque them up a bit and start investing in conservation, efficiency and alternatives, so we don't have to send so much of it to oil companies and the Middle East.

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