I read many pieces this week on Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change. Since she is widely read, I’m happy that she decided to zero in on global warming and climate change. Since my children are young, I often think that they will hold it against my generation that we didn’t act with more conviction and determination to slash green house gas emissions. As far as I can tell—I’ll get the book this weekend—she argues against market-based solutions for halting climate change, and she advises against thinking that modest reforms compatible with capitalism will be sufficient.
I agree with her that it would be foolish to place our hopes in the hands of rich philanthropists who think that their business acumen will enable them to tackle complex collective problems. I argued before that philanthropy cannot replace higher marginal tax rates for the wealthy, and that a philanthropist deciding how and where he will give his money is not the same as democratic decision-making.… Continue reading
I must say, I had been looking forward to the release of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything. Not so much because I expect to agree with that much of it – if she hasn’t changed her mind about anything since her article in The Nation a while back, then I know that I disagree with much of what she has to say on the topic of climate change. But I’ve been mentally pencilling into my schedule time to read it, and then write something in response to it.
The reason I find it worthwhile to engage with Klein’s work is that the views she articulates are often widely shared on the left, but are usually the sort of thing that you hear people say – like things I hear from my students – but that you don’t often find written down anywhere. So whenever she puts these ideas down on paper, it offers a good opportunity for discussion and debate (and for me, an opportunity to point out what I think is wrong with a lot of conventional wisdom of the left).… Continue reading
My little disquisition on carbon pricing earlier this week was actually just a warm-up for what I really wanted to write about, which is the two incredibly irritating talking points that have pretty much made up the entirety of the federal government’s communications strategy on this issue, for at least five years now. The first is the claim that a carbon tax would be a “tax on everything” or that it would increase the “price of everything.” The second is the claim that a carbon tax would be “job killing.”
What’s infuriating about these talking points is that they both sound vaguely correct, even though they are completely wrong. Thus they have all the hallmarks of our “post truth” political environment, where government no longer even tries to defend its actions or policies, it simply adopts a communications strategy that is calculated to be effective with a target segment of the electoral, then sticks to it through thick and thin.… Continue reading
There seems to be a certain amount of confusion across the land about the idea of a “carbon tax” and whether it deserves to be called a “tax” or not (e.g. here). Proponents of such a scheme – myself included – have taken to calling it a “carbon pricing” system, in order to emphasize the dissimilarity between a carbon tax and more conventional taxation schemes, such as the income tax or the GST (and also to avoid getting caught up in the “all taxes are bad” dragnet currently being thrown by the right). This has led opponents of the scheme, including the current federal government, not to mention their lackeys in the right-wing press, to insist that it is a “tax.” Indeed, the Minister of the Environment never misses an opportunity to repeat the government’s mantra, that a carbon pricing system would be, not just a tax, but a “tax on everything” (and the previous Minister claimed that “carbon pricing in any form is a carbon tax.… Continue reading
One of the great fringe benefits of my job is that I often get invited to some pretty great cities for work. I’ve just returned to Montreal from a week in Paris. I love Paris. What I love most about Paris are its neighborhoods. Walk a few kilometers outside the tourist center, and you will find fantastic inner city areas that each have their distinctive character and identity. For a long time, I used to hang out in the 14th arrondissement (intra muros Paris, the Paris that lies inside its internal ring road, le Périphérique is divided up into 20 boroughs). These days, I am more likely to try to find a place in the 20th, which is one of Paris’ most riotously multicultural neighborhoods. On this recent trip, I watched Chile win a World Cup match in a Chilean bar, watched Brazil triumph in a Brazilian restaurant, and don’t even get me started about what happened when Algeria beat South Korea!… Continue reading
Over at my day job, I’m in the midst of writing up a rather lengthy paper on cost-benefit analysis. Rereading some of the literature, I was struck by the following claim made by Cass Sunstein, in one of the many interesting things he’s written since retiring from government work and returning to academia (“The Office of Regulatory Affairs: Myths and Realities”):
In the first three years of the Obama Administration, the net benefits of economically significant regulation exceeded $91 billion – more than twenty-five times the corresponding figure for the Bush Administration, and more than six times the corresponding figure for the Clinton Administration.
We are so used to hearing about the costs imposed by regulation that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, when properly crafted, regulation is a source of enormous benefit to society. And yet it’s not every day that you see government (or in this case, former government officials) standing up and taking credit, unapologetically, for those gains.… Continue reading
I’m not what you would call a “radical environmentalist”. Nevertheless, when it comes to pollution and waste, there are a few bright lines that I try not to cross. One of those is heating the outdoors. If you find yourself doing this, you should rethink the choices that you’ve made that have brought you to this point in life. For example, I’ve always been a bit scandalized by outdoor patio heaters. My neighbour has one on her back deck. Every time I look at it, I think to myself “Seriously? You can’t just put on a sweater?”
As if this weren’t bad enough, there’s a new lifestyle trend sweeping upper-class Toronto that’s irritating me to the point of distraction. It’s heated driveways. People are installing heating coils in their front driveways, so that they don’t have to clear the snow. It’s just like a radiant heat floor inside your house, except that it’s, you know, outside.… Continue reading