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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Doing nothing a false choice

David Friedman comes out against carbon taxes (at least he's an anarchist, so that is a valid policy choice for him, not so for others). But Friedman really just opposes doing anything:
Finally, I suspect that widespread acceptance of the catastrophist view of global warming would result in quite a lot more than carbon taxes. It would provide a new justification for politically motivated interferences in a wide range of human activities. Anyone who questioned such policies would be labelled a denialist, accused of wanting Bangladeshis to drown and African children to starve. Again, look at the ongoing exchanges on Brian's blog.

Hence I conclude that serious efforts to combat global warming would have large costs, costs justified only if there were good reason to be confident that not taking such efforts would have catastrophic effects.
Not doing something sane (i.e., cabon tax) is going to lead to result in other practices Friedman will like much less, for example blunt regulation, crazy subsidies, and politically manipulated cap-and-trade markets -- also far worse than Pigouvian tax, as spelled out by Steven Postrel:
So the final score is: Permits get a moderate edge on political economy/public choice issues; taxes have a big advantage on institutional/governance issues; and taxes deliver a big can of whipass on traditional economic efficiency concerns. So conditional on accepting the weak case for CO2 emissions control, the Pigou people have a strong case against the cap-and-trade brigade. Maybe they should start making it.
Last quote via pointed out by Greg Mankiw.

The Friedman post comes via the NoPigou Club, which has yet to answer the question if not Pigou, then what?

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