Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Al Gore: End C02 Emissions; Tax Pollution, Not Paychecks

Al Gore gave a major speech on global warming at NYU yesterday. I don't know how far he is planning to run with his proposals, but he introduced some pretty radical (and I do not use that term in the negative way here) ideas for cutting down pollution and restructuring our tax system. The key sections-
"Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done when in fact it is not...

...For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes — including those for social security and unemployment compensation — and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes — principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution....

....This is an opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence, an opportunity to find our better selves and in rising to meet this challenge, create a better brighter future — a future worthy of the generations who come after us and who have a right to be able to depend on us."

I'm not grabbing my cheerleader outfit just yet, but color me intriqued.

Of course, if seriously proposed, our oil-dependent political climate would eat this alive.

Still, this seems the right direction to move toward. What Gore is proposing may seem too radical to some, so likely at best you would get some compromised, watered-down version of what he is proposing. Which would be better than nothing, of course.

I'm some economists would pour over Gore's proposal quite a bit, and would have many questions. For me, I think the biggest questions would be... what happens if/when the U.S. becomes carbon neutral? What do you tax then? Also, it would seem some massive bureaucracy would be needed to determine which companies emit what and how best to measure who owes what. Would this become the job of the IRS then? This also could backfire with even more companies leaving America to avoid paying their fair share and/or to avoid cutting down their precious, cost-saving pollution. So no, not perfect. But like I said, it's a visionary idea and hopefully (assuming the media gives this attention) will get people of all political stripes debating these important issues.

(And, of course, a policy speech like this does seem indicate a certain someone is not done with politics...)

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