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By HAL GINSBERG
For this first 2013 issue of Monterey Bay News & Views, I was asked to share my thoughts on what’s in store for the year ahead. Predictions, however, are not my strong suit. If I were a gambler, I’d be wearing a barrel hanging from suspenders and little else. So rather than forecast the future, I present in no particular order three political wishes for 2013 with the recognition that there is very little chance that any of them will come true.
1. The federal government enacts a steep tax on carbon consumers. How steep? At a minimum, an immediate doubling of the cost of fossil fuels should result. I suggest $5 on each gallon of gas with a comparable hike in the prices of coal, oil, and natural gas. All monies collected should be rebated on a monthly basis to the American people, such that each of us, including the homeless, children, and those without proper documentation, receives an equal amount.
2. Our “free” trade policies are scuttled. Importers of goods and users of services in other countries should pay tariffs to compensate for the much lower cost of operating in countries where companies pay workers $1 per hour or less; environmental regulations are not enforced or are non-existent; and healthcare expenses are borne by the government.
3. We pass sensible gun control laws. These include a background check on every firearm purchase; the compilation of a federal database containing all information pertinent to every firearm sale in America; mandatory gun safety training and a waiting or “cooling off” period; and banning high-capacity clips and assault-style guns.
A carbon tax is the most efficient way to address global warming. Unlike other fixes, like cap-and-trade or government investments in green energy companies, it is extremely simple to implement and is not amenable to fraud. As the tax hike causes price hikes, demand for planet-burning energy would drop. Concurrently, alternatives like solar, wind, and geothermal energy would become more attractive to consumers.
The problems with cap-and-trade are eliminated when you tax carbon directly. For example, cap-and-trade requires a new infrastructure to oversee the trading of pollution rights, as well as a team of experts to determine how much overall pollution should be permitted. Cheating is always going to be a concern. None of these problems exist with a carbon tax. Gasoline is already taxed at the station. It would cost nothing simply to increase the amount of the tax at each pump. Likewise, when coal is delivered to power plants, or oil and natural gas distributors purvey their products, the quantity sold is invoiced and therefore easily taxed.
Despite the fact that federal investments in green companies have actually done pretty well, the name Solyndra is synonymous with poor government decision-making when it comes to picking winners and losers in the green energy field. With a steep carbon tax, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will see their likely returns from investments in green energy go up while the risk declines. Public investment will no longer be necessary to grow the clean energy industry.
Those who resist the call for high carbon taxes always claim that they will fall hardest on poor and working Americans. This would be true unless we, as I recommend strongly, rebate all money collected in equal shares to every person living here. The result would be redistribution of wealth from the 1 percent to everybody else.
Let’s move on to tariffs. “Free trade,” especially with China, is the biggest reason for a persistently high unemployment rate in America and stagnant wages. Whole industries have fled the United States. Computers, televisions, and flatware are just a few products that are no longer manufactured in the United States. We barely make any apparel any more. It took a huge infusion of cash from Washington to “save” the American automobile industry. Why would any producer set up shop in the United States when it can pay workers in Southeast Asia $1 per hour with little or no interference over operations?
It’s not just American manufacturing that has been hurt by the corporate race to the bottom. Services are increasingly outsourced. We’re all familiar with the foreign accent that tells us we’ve reached an overseas call center. American law and accounting firms are increasingly off-shoring paralegal and associate work. Tariffs on imported goods and off-shore services would bring back good middle-class jobs to the United States and protect those still employed here from the ceaseless pressure to work harder without raises or even at reduced wages with less benefits.
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