It Isn't Easy Being Green
In Thursday's S.F. Chronicle The Bay Area's own conservative spin mistress, Debra J. Saunders, challenges Al Gore to come clean on the true costs of his radical environmental policies. Realizing that Mr Gore is a busy man who may not have time to respond to, or even read, Ms. Saunders' challenge, Wonks Anonymous would like to take up the gauntlet in his own fashion.
Ms. Saunders is rather specific in her challenge. What would it really cost to have carbon free energy in five to ten years? Wonks Anonymous would like reframe the debate and to consider this question. What would have happened to our great nation if, through some quirk of fate, Al Gore had been elected president in 2000 and had had the power to push through a radical environmentalist program?
Wonks Anonymous assumes that the foundation of this radical program would be a carbon tax that started relatively low but increased in steady monthly increments. This tax would inexorably drive up the price of everything that contained fossil fuels, in proportion to the amount of fossil fuels the good contained. The public would see a steady increase in the prices of most goods. Electricity, gasoline and diesel fuel would be hard hit. By now the price of gasoline might well be as high as $4, maybe even $5 or $6 a gallon. Electricity and other goods would also be more expensive.
Our way of life would be completely different. The roads would be filled with smaller cars that relied on bizarre technologies and we might even see a "hybrid" SUV. Our houses would be lit with compact flourescent bulbs and our roofs might even be covered with solar cells that helped to power our offices when we were away at work.
Nor would our neighborhoods be the same. The housing boom of the last decade would have occurred largely in more urban areas. Instead of driving home to vast, open vistas of McMansions in the Central Valley - please pardon my localism - we would take mass transit to more densely populated urban areas. Malls would be considerably less popular. Who knows how we would manage to live?
Of course the carbon tax would not be the only intervention the environmentalist nanny state would make in our lives. The economy was in a slump in 2000 and it is likely that Gore would have pushed through some wasteful stimulus package, for example subsidies for the construction and maintenance of mass transit. Higher gas prices would drive us out of our cars. Cheap clean and speedy mass transit would seduce us into the arms of a collectivist lifestyle. Our sturdy independence would be destroyed.
Imagine Los Angeles reduced to the condition of Moscow under Soviet rule, its cars largely replaced by a vast system of subways and busses.
But that would not be the only impact of environmental activism. The carbon tax would bring in considerable government revenue. Nor is it likely that Mr. Gore would have adopted the salutary supply side tax cuts that have done the economy so much good. Instead we would have faced a mounting budget surplus. As the national debt was retired Government expenditures on interest - now over 20% of spending - would have been reduced. This would leave even more free government income. Who knows what this might have been spent on, health care, education, Social Security benefits. More steps on the road to socialism!
Finally we must consider the international implications of radical environmentalism. Here I will assume that 9/11 still happened and Bin Laden remained a figure in the world. We probably would still have gone to Afghanistan but it is unlikely that the limitless oil of Iraq would have tempted a green wimp like Mr. Gore. A fine, character building, war would have been missed and the business opportunities so well exploited by Blackwater, Halliburton and Bechtel would not have happened.
Worse still for our national character, a whole array of enemies, Russia, Iran and Venezuela, would be sorely weakened. For the dirty secret of the carbon tax is this: It increases government revenue largely at the expense of producers of fossil fuels. Although we would not see the benefits of lower oil prices the producers would suffer the loss and be unable to threaten us.
Finally the reduction of our national debt would no doubt have lowered our interest rates and weakened the dollar. This would have acted as a tariff. It would have reduced or prevented the boom of imports and the growth of the retail service sector. Walmart would not have been the same and the glorious capitalist development of China would have been retarded.
Contemplating this sorry prospect brings tears to my wonkish eyes.
Just because we missed the opportunity to do this eight years ago does not mean that we cannot do it now. It will probably cost more and be more uncomfortable but it is still better late than never.