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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The "Cap and Tax" rhetoric is even more misleading than we're giving them credit for

The Cap and Trade approach is deeply flawed, but the criticism from groups that call it "Cap and Tax" is dishonest. It's dishonest not merely because it is not literally a tax but because there is a better, more equitable, more effective, and less economically damaging approach that actually does literally involve a tax! To frame Cap and Trade as a "tax," spoken with a sneer implying that taxes are fundamentally evil, blocks off the political avenue of even considering this better solution! Check it out at carbontax.org.

Offsets are flawed. The whole idea of cap and trade is problematic and it opens the door for more crony capitalism, but it would have some positive impact compared to doing nothing. But there is no doubt that capping emissions and requiring heavy emitters to purchase offsets would increase costs for those heavy emitters. Thus, the opposition has taken to framing Cap and Trade as "Cap and Tax." How clever. How biting. How dishonest.

A tax would be better! A fairly administered revenue-neutral carbon tax is what we need. It's not about playing favorites between industries. It's simply a recognition that certain economic activity generates externalities that the market does not factor into price, and as we recognize greenhouse gas emissions as one such problem, we can put in place a revenue neutral tax. A revenue-neutral tax is simply a way for us to collectively decide that what the hidden cost for a particular activity is, tax it at a level based on our estimate of that hidden cost, and then distribute the revenue from those taxes back out to everyone equally. The result is not bigger government, but simply a market value attached to the activity that produces the externality.

I think it's brilliant. Now ... how to sell it with a catchy slogan. That's much harder than convincing a thinking person that the policy is right....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wishing it doesn't make it true...

...But doing it does.

A recent letter to the editor in the Arizona Republic boldly complained "If the House of Representatives agrees to deem President Barack Obama's health-care reform bill passed without taking a vote, then I'd like to deem my 2009 federal income tax paid without having to write a check."

You can, Ms Oeste! You can! Just have someone else do it for you. If they do it, you can deem it done and take credit for it. If they don't, well it's still on you, so you didn't really shirk any responsibilities now, did you?

It is troubling that people can be so ignorant of how their government works but still demand that their voices be heard. Say something that actually makes sense and your leaders might hear it. I think a lot of people are going to either be confused when they hear the vote tally or assume the procedure to "deem it passed" was not used. How sad.

But the Democrats are using a strategy that only works for people who understand the policy and the procedure. What they seem to not understand is that the people they need to convince have no clue! It's a fine like to walk, having a serious conversation with people who have no clue without talking down to them. A better strategy would have been to refuse to discuss the procedure and just say "we don't know yet" until the amendments are finalized and they have "a promise" from their colleagues in the Senate. People understand "a promise"! If someone blames them for voting for the unfixed bill... if the fixes are the law, then who cares. "I voted to get rid of the corn-husker kickback, " they could say, " and we won that for you." If the fixes do not become law, they could blame their Senate colleagues for breaking the promise, but better yet, why not blame the Senate Republicans for refusing to take up the fixes? "I voted out the corn-husker kickback," they could say, "but the Senate Republicans wouldn't even consider it. Apparently for all their negativity, they actually like the corn-husker kickback." If the so-called corn-husker kickback is the law of the land and I am a representative on record voting against it, it's a plausible defense.

So the Democrats backed down from "deem and pass" on Sunday. I've had a to argue with too many Democrats about this. They think it was a good move because it made the issue moot and showed courage to do it straight up without the political cover and/or because it knocked the Republican propaganda machine off its game for a little while because they were planning to have that talking point for a while longer [it seems like Boehner's speech was originally written with that talking point in mind, so it kinda worked]. I somewhat disagree with both arguments, because both of these assume that the individuals who believed the misinformation to begin with have half a clue. They do not. The talking point remains firmly established among the rank and file. The fact that it is now "even more false" means nothing to them because to them, it is still true.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Honorable John Shadegg
U.S. House of Representatives
436 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Shadegg,

I recently attended your health care town hall at Scottsdale Christian Academy. While I greatly appreciate the opportunity to express our concerns directly and hear your positions more clearly, without the filter of the media, I was deeply dismayed by one exchange.

A women stood at a microphone shaking and angry. At the center of her rage at the moment was "this student loan thing" that the Democrats are trying to incorporate through reconciliation into their health care bill. The woman clearly had the impression that the provision in question represented increased social spending that she and the other taxpayers would now "have to pay for." I am not going to claim that your position on this has no merit. I recognize the validity of arguments on both sides. Perhaps there are arguments that could push me to support your position, but that never came up! You couldn't present your position because it would have corrected her, and you chose instead to leverage her ignorance to rally political forces. You instead gave a short statement of your position carefully worded to support a specific misinterpretation. You allowed her and others to leave still believing the same falsehood and still extremely angry about it.

As far as I'm concerned, your response was just as bad as stating the lie itself. I take every chance I find to correct people on the facts, even at the expense of their enthusiasm for my ideology. Is your ideology really so weak that it can't stand the light of day? Why should you admit such weakness in your ideas and ideals by failing to take the high road so easily laid out in front of you? I believe that increasing the knowledge of civic participants leads to better outcomes more surely than the program of any other ideology. Maybe that's not an option. Much of what you said sounded reasonable, but in retrospect, I have to assume you were just outright lying the entire time. Every single one of your props was misleading in some way. Am I just a liberal intellectual elitists who doesn't understand the concerns of real Americans, and you a sleazy snake oil salesman, and never the twain shall meet?