OK, I Relent: I Will Support A Carbon Tax If Y'all Will Stop the Torrent of Stupid

President Obama is preparing to unleash a Colorado-River-sized torrent of stupid.  He wants to spend tens of billions of dollars on goofy green energy projects that will have an indiscernible affect on world temperatures but will have a very robust effect on some crony bottom lines.   Here is one example:

As part of President Obama’s plans to combat climate change, the White House announced a program on Friday for the U.S. Department of Energy to train 75,000 people to work in the solar power industry by 2020, many of whom will be part of a military veterans jobs initiative called Solar Ready Vets.

Seriously, is the training costs of workers really a substantial portion of a solar installation?

Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, which publishes the annual National Solar Jobs Census, said that Obama’s announcement will not likely increase the size of the solar industry’s workforce but will instead ensure that the industry will be able to find highly skilled workers to fill jobs.

“We’re experiencing difficulty finding more skilled and qualified workers to install and do design work required,” she said, adding that the industry’s workforce has a “skills gap” as well-trained electricians and other workers go back to other construction jobs as the economy gains momentum.

I will translate that trade-group speak for you:  We like to pay our workers less than similarly-skilled construction workers so we lose a lot of skilled workers to higher paying construction companies. This program will not add any net employment to the economy but will help us keep wages lower by increasing the supply of qualified workers.

I can't help but think of Henry Ford, who famously raised the wages of his employees substantially.  The fake story is that he did this so all his workers could buy his product.   The real reason he did this was that he had horrendous labor turnover problems.  Like the solar industry, he was training folks who then left for higher paying jobs.  So he had to raise his wages to retain trained people.  How history would have changed if Ford had instead been able to call Obama and ask him to have the taxpayer pay to feed him with new, trained workers so he wouldn't have to raise his wage rates!

Seriously, did a bunch of technocrats get together and study the whole solar industry and come to the conclusion that solar installation skills were the keystone problem that was holding back the whole industry?  Of course not.  The solar industry will sink or swim based on panel costs and efficiencies.   What happened is someone said, "well the public always seems to like job training programs.  Those poll well."  And then they called the solar crony association or whatever it is called and they said, "sure, we would love to have taxpayers pay some of our training costs.  Thanks, we will be very supportive." And then someone said, "well, won't the Republicans pitch a fit over this?" And then someone had the brilliant idea of making it a veterans program -- "Republicans love soldiers, that will help defuze their opposition."  And an expensive crony giveaway was born.

About 5 years ago I said I would be willing to accept a carbon tax whose proceeds were used to reduce various labor tax rates (e.g. social security).  Substituting an energy consumption tax for a labor consumption tax was probably at least neutral and maybe even a net positive.

Now, I want to come back to that idea.  I don't believe any more than I did then that CO2-driven global warming will be catastrophic.  In fact, I am more confident than ever that while CO2-induced warming is a reality, the sensitivity of temperatures to CO2 levels is relatively low.  But please, I am willing to fully support a carbon tax that offsets some other existing tax if only we will stop all this stupid crony useless green energy stuff.  At least with a carbon tax, the markets will reduce fossil fuel use in the most efficient ways possible.  As opposed to programs like this one that will reduce fossil fuel use not at all but will cost a lot of money.

  • Bram

    NO!

    Taxes only move one way. Once we have a carbon tax, we'll never get rid of it. Just like states' with "temporary" income or sales taxes, toll roads, etc... never ever get rid of them.

  • DaveA

    effect, not affect

  • chembot

    I have been convinced for sometime that environmentalism has become the Tulip Mania of our time, and far more widespread than that bubble ever was. It doesn't help that the whole movement has evolved greatly from simply wanting clean water and air and good stewardship of natural areas to a goofy quasi-mystical political religion complete with dogma and the daily pieties, no matter how absurd or ineffectual.

    This is simply another one of them. In typical fashion, the problem is diagnosed as a failure of the market to provide the desired policy outcome, rather than the result of rational economic choice. Hence, meddle and subsidize until you get the results you want. And if that is not enough, the fangs come out. Excuse the subsidized industry from certain regulations and heap expenses upon the disfavored until the costs begin to equalize. And if the labor market is not cooperative, perhaps what they need to do is create a "nucleus" of workers to build the societal infrastructure and catalyze the change that is needed.

    This isn't limited to environmental stuff though or to Obama. How many times have you heard the local politician say something to the effect of: "We need to create a center of excellence in 'x' so we can be a world class leader in 'y'. Our small investments today in my hobby horse will lead to bazillions in economic gain for the Joe Six-packs in my feifdom." I see it all the time in my own industry of biotechnology. Hell, the Kelo case was basically the exclamation point on that philosophy.

  • chembot

    As to the tax issue, I agree with Bram. Just like the idea of the fair tax, I feel your idea for the carbon tax is flawed in that it would never be a replacement, but only an addition. And unlike the fair tax which basically treats almost all classes of expenditures equally, a carbon tax builds in implicit subsidies for various industries and lifestyles that would only magnify overtime. As for the fair tax, the "rebates" available in a lot of those proposals ruins the simplicity and fairness of the tax and short of an accompanying amendment to permanently squash the 16th and prevent the labor style capitation taxes is probably unworkable.

    These days I am more in favor of a flat income tax on direct income with no exceptions or exemptions as being the most fair while being the most easily implementable from the current system.

  • me

    Hey, let's tax an immeasurable quantity that paid consultancies will have to pull values for out of thin air (pun intended). What could possibly go wrong?

  • randian

    "How history would have changed if Ford had instead been able to call Obama and ask him to have the taxpayer pay to feed him with new, trained workers so he wouldn't have to raise his wage rates!"

    H1Bs serve the same purpose for programmers. My wages haven't increased in 15 years.

  • herdgadfly

    There is no reason to have a tax on carbon since there is no scientific evidence that carbon is somehow costly to the environment. But for those of us who recognize that the very large planet earth is too big to regulate and that our one-hundred times bigger sun, Sol, is and will always dictate planetary heat, cold, light, dark and weather. Money spent to limit CO2 is insanely a largely unrecognized scam to separate fools from their wealth. There is, however a reason to tax payroll to pay for Social Security - especially if we agree that there is a need for retirement funds. Coyote needs to better explain why any link between carbon and retirement should ever be.

  • skhpcola

    I remember Warren's carbon tax advocacy differently than he portrays it in this post. As a matter of fact, I remember being appalled that my appreciation and admiration of him was diminished for the first time. He was a rabid enthusiast of carbon taxes, actually. For social behavior modification, IIRC. I've been here for a long time and I was a more than a little bit stricken by his adoption of leftist anti-wealth creation hyperbole. That's was probably when I began suspecting that Libertarians were really just leftists with a touch of conservative anti-big government window dressing.

  • skhpcola

    The need for retirement funding and payroll taxation for Social Security are not wedded together inextricably. But yeah, I agree with you.

  • wreckinball

    CO2 tax is a total scam. If you really believe we need gov't intervention on CO2(I don't) then put a limit on CO2 by industry and phase it in. No taxes, no slush, less crony.
    Creating a CO2 crony slush fund is the worst idea possible. And no taxes would be eliminated and any reductions would come with that convenient "expiration" date. The actual tax never expires.

  • stanbrown

    Carbon tax is a massive income redistribution from rural and suburban areas to cities. Let's devastate flyover country to benefit cities and call it revenue 'neutral'. What could possibly go wrong?

    Brain dead.