The Brass Tack

Let's get down to it.

Sarah Palin on Cap and Trade

Posted by srconstantin on July 14, 2009

I’m not very good at Palin-snark. I think her family has been through the wringer. I also think she would have made a terrible vice-president. So it’s not in the interest of making aerial wolf-gunning jokes that I bring up her new editorial on the Waxman-Markley bill, but to point out what a terrible job conservatives are doing of attacking it.

Palin says, “There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!”

First of all, why does it matter where we get our energy? The case for free trade — that it makes goods cheaper and more abundant, doesn’t break down just because the good is important, like oil. Even the consideration that starving the Middle East of oil revenues will prevent terrorism isn’t particularly compelling — first of all, in an international market, the US is only one player and can’t singlehandedly reduce their revenues. Also, I’ve never heard it argued that making people poorer makes them less prone to radical violence. “Energy independence” is protectionism, plain and simple.

The second part of Palin’s statement is even more bizarre. “The answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!” Well, if we want to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption to mitigate climate change then yes, the answer lies exactly in that! It’s the purpose of a cap-and-trade plan. You reduce how much carbon we emit by making carbon expensive to emit. We’re supposed to be using less, and yes, it is equivalent to a tax. One suspects that Palin, with her Alaskan oil culture, is just plain puzzled by the notion of a law to get us to use less of anything! (But we are rapidly increasing surface temperatures and reducing emissions might not be such a kooky idea after all.)

In fact, Palin makes no mention of climate change in the whole editorial. It’s as though she were railing against tax dollars going to the NIH with no mention that, you know, the idea is to pay for medical research that cures diseases. She isn’t making an argument that climate change is too expensive to address, or that its effects will be mild. She’s completely ignoring the issue. Cap and trade will make us use less! Isn’t that bad?

And this is a pretty standard conservative position. She points out (correctly) that cap-and-trade will increase the cost of farming and manufacturing, and that it’s regressive. She says (bizarrely) that it will “outsource” our energy supply to China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (first, there’s no reason why it should make us import more oil, and second, the grim implication is that we shouldn’t do anything that lets any money trickle into China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia.) But to consider that climate change might actually both exist and be worth spending money to prevent is outside the range of her imagination.

I’m not a big fan of Waxman-Markey myself. Even its supporters agree that its effect on global carbon emissions will be negligible. With permit giveaways and carbon offsets, it’s vulnerable to industry favoritism. And it sets up a large regulatory organ that will be difficult to change or uproot if we ever get the political will for a better plan. If I ran the zoo, I’d favor a carbon tax. Less regulatory cost, fewer opportunities for regulatory capture, and the advantage that, unlike in cap-and-trade, the price of carbon would be stable and easy to predict, which might spare us the volatility that has plagued European carbon markets. I’m pretty much in the camp of those who say “mitigate carbon the right way,” straddling the environmentalists and the deniers.

If Republicans wanted to make a successful argument against the administration’s climate plans, they could. They could support a carbon tax. (The day they do that, I’ll give a free hug to all the Republicans I know.) Or they could echo Jim Manzi, probably the most serious conservative writing on the issue, whose cost-benefit analyses argue that the cost of global warming mitigation is higher than the cost of global warming itself. But Republicans don’t do that. They just refuse to take global warming seriously as something that you at least need to justify ignoring. Until they do, the only policies available to us will come from the only party that recognizes that an issue exists — and, I think, that means we’ll all lose.

Edit: Conor Clarkehas more comments, including a quick rundown on externalities, and the observation (which I overlooked) that Waxman-Markey isn’t all that regressive because it provides a rebate and tax credit to low-income families.

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4 Responses to “Sarah Palin on Cap and Trade”

  1. […] Palin, politics I’m going to leave the actual content of Sarah Palin’s op-ed to smarter people who are more familiar with cap-and-trade. (By the way, isn’t it weird that she never mentions […]

  2. […] 14 tags: Andrew Bacevich, conservative movement, ronald reagan, the limits of power by Jamelle thebrasstack (A Friend of the Blog who still doesn’t have her place on the blog roll. I apologize, […]

  3. Kevin Waterman said

    Not to defend Palin on this, but she is half right. Change on energy can come about without making the current price of energy higher, someone just has to find a form of energy that has costs (including implementation) sufficiently low to get under current energy costs. Theoretically, it could happen (but more realistically, I suspect it’ll be a combination of that and traditional energy prices increasing simultaneously so the threshold point isn’t so low).

    Just thought I’d throw that out there.

    • thebrasstack said

      That’s true, and I’d missed that.
      But I think if she’d intended to say that we should focus instead on alternative energy, she would have. Instead, it sounds like she doesn’t even give lip service to the idea that reducing emissions is desirable.

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