On Thursday, the R Street Institute and the Heartland Institute held a debate in a Washington, D.C. auditorium on the proposition: “Resolved: Under no circumstances should conservatives support a tax on carbon emissions.” About 150 people attended.
Arguing for the proposition were James Taylor of Heartland and David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation. Arguing against were Andrew Moylan of R Street and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) of the Energy and Enterprise Institute.
After the debate, moderator and Reason Foundation science correspondent Ron Bailey called for a division of the house. A majority of the audience opposed the proposition. The next day Bailey reported on Reason’s blog that “About 60% of Conservatives Support a Carbon Tax.” When this headline provoked the ire of some conservatives, Bailey said it was meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek.
Whether offered in jest or not, Bailey’s headline is false. Had he put the question to the 150 or so movement conservatives who attend Grover Norquist’s Wednesday Meeting, the head count might have been 148-2 — with only Moylan and Eli Lehrer of R Street standing in favor of a carbon tax.
Most people who attend carbon tax events in D.C. are ‘progressives.’ I suspect many who came to the debate were staunch carbon taxers and would not have stood for the proposition even if Taylor and Kreutzer dazzled with the oratory of Abe Lincoln and Dan’l Webster.
An unfortunate word choice may also have tilted the straw poll against the proposition. Prudence counsels us never to say never. In some circumtances, bad choices are the only way to avoid even greater evils. The categorical formulation (“under no circumstances”) made the proposition literally unreasonable.
Here’s what the debate was really about: “Resolved, a carbon tax is a conservative idea whose time has come.” That proposition is almost farsical on its face. Even some greenies in the room might have had to swallow hard before standing up for it.
Let’s review some of the back and forth.
Do carbon taxes pick winners and losers?
Inglis led off by arguing that a conservative energy policy does not “pick winners and losers.” What conservatives want is an “impartial cop on the beat.” That’s a carbon tax, which applies equally to all forms of energy and then lets the “free market” decide. Not so — not even close.
A carbon tax discriminates against carbon-based (fossil) fuels. That’s its core function! Inglis might as well say that a nuclear tax applies equally to all forms of energy and lets the free market decide. Just because the market sorts out the effects of a discriminatory tax does not make the tax non-discriminatory. [click to continue…]