Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jonathan Alter: Best Ideas for Fixing America? Listen to Gore, Bradley

Jonathan Alter: Best Ideas for Fixing America? Listen to Gore, Bradley: "There's another way to cut emissions that might be more politically palatable than a steep gas tax, which has long been a nonstarter. It's an even bigger idea--a 'sky trust,' as described briefly in the book 'Capitalism 3.0' by Peter Barnes, who argues that the atmosphere is a 'commons' that belongs to everyone. A sky trust would be modeled on the way Alaska handles oil revenue or how a waste-management company would operate if it owned dumping rights to the sky. Instead of the proceeds of a steep carbon tax going to the government, where it might be wasted, the 'assessments' would go into a huge trust, then sent back to all stakeholders (the public) in the form of a dividend check at the end of the year, the same amount for each person. Those who drive more and are thus assessed more also usually live in parts of the country where the cost of living is lower and the rebate check would go further. And people who cut their carbon footprints would likely end up ahead of the game."

This is similar to Jeff Smith's longheld idea of the Citizen's Dividend. It has the twin advantage that it is both just and efficient to declare the atmosphere a commons and to impose taxation on polluters in proportion to pollution. The cost of such a scheme would only be felt indirectly in terms of increased prices for carbon-heavy products, but the benefit would be directly appreciated in terms of the cheque to every citizen, thus maximising its chance of political acceptance.

Of course, there are other good claims on revenue so raised, for example that it should be invested in renewable energy or in public transport or other essential infrastructure. Perhaps an allocation in some proportion could be made, eg 50% dividend, 50% infrastructure. But some scheme of revenue hypothecation increasingly deserves serious consideration.

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