Two weeks ago, I attended the Goldman Lecture in Economics that took place in Tishman Commons. The speaker was N. Gregory Mankiw, a distinguished professor of economics at Harvard and former economic advisor to President George W. Bush. While I fundamentally disagree with his conservative views in many regards, Mankiw raises an important point: we need to tax carbon and its byproducts for the health of our environment.
As a liberal, I find it surprising that so few have joined his cause. While Mankiw argues that this tax could be used to reduce government spending by allowing for cutbacks on other forms of taxation, the tax could also easily be implemented to aid liberal goals by generating income from the tax to promote redistributive policies, or generally increase government spending, as Mankiw noted in his lecture. The opposition of the carbon tax comes mostly from voters, in spite of most economists agree that carbon must be taxed. I believe that liberals should fully embrace the carbon tax, and taxation at large.
Liberals have watered-down their original message on taxation to gain more votes in popular elections. Current democratic of cials, especially those running for of ce, shy away from speaking about taxation in the hopes of wooing centrist and conservative voters. However, this evasion is hypocritical as redistributive policies cannot be achieved without taxation. Democrats need to be unashamed of where these funds must come from. Just as right-wing politicians promoted their border wall unabashedly, so too must democrats support taxation.
Taxation is a simple way to provide an incentive to reduce or discontinue the use of a specific good. A tax on carbon would effectively be a tax on gasoline, which would incentivize people to consume less gas and therefore reduce vehicular carbon emissions. This would also encourage firms to produce alternatives to gasoline and incentivize entry into the market for green energy. In addition, this revenue could subsidize education, affordable housing and various other projects that can help Americans who deserve more opportunities. And while we may not be able to convince certain people that the threat of climate change is ever-present, a government mandate would force people to change their behavior regardless of whether they believe the science behind it. Instead of resorting to elaborate measures to dodge environmental standards, companies would have to change their behavior to continue maximizing their profits.
While I believe that these standards and guidelines are still necessary, Mankiw notes that they put companies in direct opposition to their consumers. Taxation forces both the producer and the consumer to pay these taxes and not place blame on one another. Liberals need to support this measure in addition to strengthening government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. While supporting a carbon tax is seemingly more radical than trying to prevent a needed agency from shutting down, efficient taxes are needed for reducing carbon emissions, and we should adopt this more radical stance.
Sadly, this is just another example of politicians and government of cials refusing to listen to expert advice. Because politicians are too afraid to tell their constituents that they might need to pay an extra 30 cents on gasoline, they shy away from important legislation that needs to be passed and issues that will not resolve themselves. The carbon tax is a perfect opportunity for liberals to accomplish several goals, including reducing carbon emission and funding potential redistributive policies. Because the current income tax plan is so conservative, democrats need to advocate for ways to generate revenue for the government. The carbon tax is one that we will all pay, but democratic politicians would have an easier sell to their constituents who live in urban areas, as these are more energy ef cient. Lawmakers should act as quickly as possible to implement this policy as well as other policies that force both consumers and producers to act on the pressing need to address climate change. As liberals, we should seize this opportunity to embrace taxation and its bene ts.