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Republicans try to save their deteriorating party with another push for a carbon tax

Posted on 2 July 2018 by dana1981

The Republican Party is rotting away
. The problem is that GOP policies just aren’t popular. Most Americans unsurprisingly oppose climate denial, tax cuts for the wealthy, and putting children (including toddlers) in concentration camps, for example.

The Republican Party has thus far managed to continue winning elections by creating “a coalition between racists and plutocrats,” as Paul Krugman put it. The party’s economic policies are aimed at benefitting wealthy individuals and corporations, but that’s a slim segment of the American electorate. The plutocrats can fund political campaigns, but to capture enough votes to win elections, the GOP has resorted to identity politics. Research has consistently shown that Trump won because of racial resentment among white voters.

While that strategy has worked in the short-term, some Republicans recognize that it can’t work in the long-term, and they’re fighting to save their party from extinction.

Can a carbon tax save the GOP?

Climate change is one of many issues that divides the Republican Party. Like racial resentment, climate denial is a position held mostly by old, white, male conservatives. There’s a climate change generational, ethnic, and gender gap. 61% of Republicans under the age of 50 support government climate policies, compared to just 44% of Republicans over 50. Similarly, a majority of Hispanic- and African-Americans accept human-caused global warming and 70% express concern about it, as compared to just 41% of whites who accept the scientific reality and 50% who worry about it.

But the plutocratic wing of the GOP loves fossil fuels. Republican politicians rely on campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, and quid pro quo requires them to do the industry’s bidding. It might as well be called the Grand Oil Party.

There is no other reason why the GOP should not unify behind a revenue-neutral carbon tax. This free market, small government climate policy – which taxes carbon pollution and returns all the revenue to American households – is indeed supported by many conservatives. A group of Republican elder statesmen created a coalition called the Climate Leadership Council to build conservative support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They’re now backed by Americans for Carbon Dividends (AfCD), led in part by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott with a renewed effort to build support for this policy.

AfCD recently released polling results showing that 55% of Americans believe US environmental policy is headed in the wrong direction (29% say it’s on the right track), 81% of likely voters including 58% of Strong Republicans agree the government should take action to limit carbon emissions, and by a 56% to 26% margin (including a 55% to 32% margin among Strong Republicans), Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

It’s not a wildly popular policy proposal, but it does have broad bipartisan support. It’s also a smart way to curb climate change with minimal economic impact, and in fact with a massive net economic benefit compared to unchecked climate change. That’s why economists overwhelmingly support a carbon tax.

The GOP was on the wrong side of history on civil rights and gay marriage and has paid the price, having largely become the party of old, straight, white men. Climate change is a similarly critical historical issue, but one that will directly impact every single American. Some smart Republicans recognize that the party can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history again on this issue.

Racial politics slapped a band-aid on the GOP’s gaping wound

Donald Trump managed to win the presidency in 2016 by stoking racial resentment among white Americans, but still lost the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million, and Republicans have only won the presidential popular vote once in the past two decades. They’re winning elections by relying on structural advantages (gerrymandering and weighting of rural votes), voter suppression, and mobilizing older white voters.

Trump seems to be doubling down on the latter strategy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, for example by claiming that illegal immigrants are “infesting” America and by putting immigrant children in concentration camps. While only 25% of Americans support separating immigrant children from their parents, 49% of Republicans favor the policy. It’s a recipe for turning out the racist base (who also tend to be climate deniers), but not for winning a general election. Especially over the long-term as America becomes less white and as younger, more tolerant Americans become a larger proportion of the electorate.

When asked about the child concentration camps at a press conference, Senator David Perdue (R-GA) made the connection between the GOP coalition of plutocrats and racists, telling reporters:

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. What an accurate article, complete with an attention grabbing summary (ha ha).

    Carbon tax and dividend makes sense environmentally, ethically, politically and in terms of the constitution. The Constitution allows the government to tax: (Section 8. Clause 1) .The GOP is always talking about the value of the constitition, and its various amendments so why do they have blinkers over their eyes when they read this part?

    Climate change is a consumption problem and a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem, where markets don't automatically recognise and correct the problem, thus requiring a push from something like a carbon tax. The tax and dividend scheme overcomes the potential for the money to disappear into general government spending, by giving it directly to the citizens, and when the climate problem is resolved the tax obviously self extinguishes, so this should ameliorate concerns that taxes become embedded and permanent, potentially increasing government over reach.

    The racism, or perhaps xenophobia about immigration is probably partly a result of exaggeration and deceit coming from the media. The impression is created that America is being buried with vast numbers of immigrants, terrorists, and criminals, when this is all nonsense.

    The facts are that on a "per capita" basis dozens of countries take in more immigrants than America. Numbers of illegal immigrants coming into America have been falling for years. 

    In addition immigrant communities tend to have low rates of crime, add value to the economy, and tend to be motivated and hard working.

    Americans are such gullable people. They take the utter drivel coming from people like Fox and various conspiracy theory websites at face value, and can't even be bothered to fact check it.

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  2. A perfect example of how useless Fox are: Maria Bartiromo’s embarrassing Trump interview.

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  3. nigelj,

    Applying abductive reasoning (using inference to come up with the best explanation of everything that you observe or are aware of - not Deductive or Inductive reasoning), I consider the following to be what is happening:

    • Competition to appear to be superior to others, with popularity and profitability as measures of success, is unjustifiable being won by people who choose to behave less ethically than Others.
    • The unjustified winners use false advertising in the form of political claim-making and published political Opinion pieces because there are no rules requiring honest efforts to educate (to more fully inform or to help correctly understand) when it comes to political matters.
    • That winning by less ethical people, and the associated bad law making and bad law enforcement, create an environment where more people develop similar desires to win by being less ethical.

    And that is what John Stuart Mill warned about in "On Liberty" with the statement “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    But the reality is that the damage done by too many people in a nation like the USA 'growing up mere children' is that the rest of humanity, in particular the future of humanity, suffers the consequences while the undeserving Winners temporarily enjoy their unjustified damaging spoils (feeling superior by getting away with harming others, ruining things for everyone else).

    And that was explained in the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" stating that "... We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions." The reality is even worse than that. The undeserving winners act the way they do because they do not believe that the people they harm can effectively get even with them, and they strive to be as threatening as possible to All Others (those they do not care about and are willing to harm).

    That group of trouble-makers have figured out ways to create false advertising triggering primitive reactionary instinctive responses that over-power a person's innate human ability to use their frontal lobes to considerately thoughtfully evaluate and understand what is actually going on. They promote Egoism to the detriment of Altruism.

    And that is what has happened to Ethics, it is being Trumped by Selfishness, and not just in the USA, and not just recently.

    And that is a major reason why climate science has not been more broadly accepted, why it is so aggressively irrationally successfully opposed. Undeserving winners do not like the corrections of what has developed that have been identified and justified by climate science. The burning of fossil fuels is not the only undeserved unsustainable harmful way of winning that has developed popularity and profitability (and those Uniting greedier and less tolerant people and claiming they are Right and hoping to be believed to be Conservative understand all of that, and how to unjustifiably win).

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  4. OPOF, thank's for the tip on inductive reasoning. I confess it's a new concept I haven't come across, although I did the other forms of reasoning in maths at university. It seems a little like Occams Razor. 

    And your analysis of society is very convicing. It is difficult for humanity, because we are 'hardwired' to be somewhat competitive and status seeking, which needs acknowledging,  and this can have both positive and negative implications. I don't have a problem with business competition between firms, but when individuals turn this into something self aggrandising this can become toxic for humanity as a whole. This is what D Trump does.

    On a personal level, I  think we have to push our competitiveness into areas that are less materialistic in nature, and less harmful to others, and  disrespectful of the welfare of others and more helpful to others. Its a challenge, but I doubt humanity has any other real choice in the long run. Humanity is capable of greatness, and needs a stable ethical platform and agreed rules if it is to achieve this.

    You have an individualistic interpretation of matters and of expressing them that is probably your strength. Yet I would avoid being "too" idiosyncratic in terminology.

    I must pick up more on the themes you explore, and write something on it on this website when appropriate as a fully stated analysis / philosophy. I tend to be more a person who is reactive to what other people say, and just pick up on points they make. But I feel if they have taken the trouble to write them, its polite to acknowledge them.

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  5. OPOF I meant abductive reasoning!

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  6. nigelj,

    My thoughts and how to best express them are definitely a work in progress.

    I have recently retired from my career as an ethics-guided Professional Engineer. I plan to work on improving my writing, learning to present things in more basic language.

    And I also owe SkS an article, or series, about the required correction of economic evaluations that currently ignore the unacceptability of a portion of humanity benefiting from activity that is unsustainable and that develops/creates negative consequences that others, especially future generations, will have to try to live/deal with. Those evaluations compare 'the benefit that has to be given up by some of humanity today to reduce the negative consequences faced by others, especially by future generations' with the negative consequences for others and argue that as long as the 'negative future consequences' are figured out to be less than the 'opportunity that has to be given up today' then it is OK to enjoy today's opportunity. Which is like claiming it is OK to hurt my neighbour as long as I think I get more benefit than the harm I think I am doing to my neighbour.

    I learned about the concept of abductive reasoning from Sean Carroll's book "The Big Picture" (which is a non-political-ism biased book - it promotes naturalism - I highly recommend to anyone wanting to be as understanding as possible about what is going on).

    If we could get people competing to be 'more ethical' and be rewarded for being more ethical, more helpful to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, there would be less need for laws or means to enforce laws to protect desired interests.

    Regarding the libertarian-right dislike of taxes: My understanding is that they believe the only value of taxes is to protect 'their' developed private interests. They support taxes for military offensive/defence capabilities (the ability to threaten external parties more than those external others can be a threat), and support taxes for policing (but not for keeping the peace in their region, more for threatening and acting to protect private interests with military-style policing for their benefit being something they are OK with).

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  7. OPOF @6, I'm semi retired myself.  I lack clarity at times, and I'm too dry, and I'm working to improve this.

    Some hopefully constructive advice: I wouldn't say that you should use more basic language! Sophisticated, elegant writing is fantastic and you have an element of this.

    But one of your sentences above was about 70 words long (!) so too cumbersome, and  I'm not sure "troublemakers " is the right sort of term, and is if anything too basic. However your style is also what makes your posts rather compelling and interesting, so I'm suggesting a  "trimming up" rather than a different basic approach. 

    Yes libertarians are like that. They reluctantly accept having a government at all, and only to the extent of criminal and very basic property law to protect their interests while they do what they like and walk over everyone else.  I think libertarianism probably has some sort of genetic basis, or at the very least they are at the extreme end of the spectrum of human behaviour.

    Unfortunatlely these people are cunning and influence politics sometimes behind the scenes, and are diametrically opposed to the very things that can make a difference on the climate issue in terms of state policies eg carbon taxes, and subsidies. Their ideology is one of deep resentment of any rules, impositions, taxes, or constraints. I'm more in the middle on the issue, as it appears you are. 

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  8. nigelj,

    I appreciate the feedback.

    Condensing statements is a little tricky for me. I have seen many cases where a briefer statement was more ambiguous,more open to interpretation. That is usually the result of using a 'term' instead of using more words to say what is intended.

    Taking extra time to create a longer message using shorter sentences, still being careful to not use terms that result in the statement being more open to interpretation, is part of what I will do. John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" opens with a 45 word sentence. And Noam Chomski's writing is full of long statements. However, my long statements are not as well crafted as theirs are (and 70 word strings can easily be divided into a pair of statements).

    What is more relevant is that writers like Naomi Klein effectively use shorter statements with more common words. So, I will also work towards using more basic language (but I will continue to sprinkle in relevant less common, and not more open to interpretation, terms in the hopes that people will take the time understand how to expand their vocabulary).

    Unfortunately many people struggle to comprehend statements made using less familiar words. I have read that news writers try to use Grade 4 level English (That was years ago. It may be down to Grade 3 Level by now). So I will be working on using a diversity of writing styles, with the more basic styles used for writing that is intended for broader public consumption.

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  9. OPOF @8, yes I hear you. Legal documents often use long sentences as its the only way of being precise. By nature I have used very long sentences in the past, but have been criticised for this, and hence I have adopted a slightly more "clipped" style.

    As with many things its probably about the right 'balance'. Long sentences are sometimes absolutely essential, but using too many, or if they are too long make things a little hard to read.

    I think your choice of sophisticated words is about right actually,because you use them appropriately and you dont go overboard. Some people use less common words to sound impressive. And too much 'jargon' can be confusing but I definitely dont see this with you.

    If anything its your use of simple words like troublemakers that  seems unusual, -  although to be honest, I cant think of a better one in the context!

    The reason I'm ranting about this is more that so much trouble in internet discussions comes from bad writing, and people missinterpreting what each other say and this applies to so many different people. So I'm talking to everyone not really just you. One of the main problems is lack of clarity, but you don't have that problem. 

    The other suggestion is  when analysis becomes long, it's best to take a historical approach, so define the problem, analyse it and its history, suggest solutions, etc. A summary at the start helps.

    I'm thinking of writing a book on climate denialism, so I'm speaking partly to myself, and if people think my comments on communications are wrong tear them apart.

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