So: I have two complaints about Robert Frank's pitch for a carbon tax in the Sunday NYT Business section.
The first complaint is a false-equivalency complaint. Well, actually, begin before that: I was highly annoyed from the beginning. He starts by saying "Don't expect to hear much about climate change at the Republican and Democratic conventions." Will that be true? Maybe, maybe not. It's just as likely that we'll hear plenty of climate denialism at the GOP gathering, perhaps in "jokes" about the world-wide conspiracy by climate scientists to convince everyone of something that they made up. And it's not at all unlikely that we'll hear a fair amount about climate from the Democrats.
Maybe not; maybe Republicans will be scared off the topic by the midwestern drought and Isacc, and Democrats will be scared off the topic by their fear of, well, Democrats can always scare themselves out of any issue. But actually, I expect to hear a fair amount about it from the Democrats next week. After all, as Frank does get around to mentioning, Democrats actually did try to do something fairly major on climate when they almost had the votes.
At any rate...sure, feel free to bash specific Democrats for putting short-term local interests over the long-term national interest, and feel free to complain about the Democratic strategy in 2009-2010. But Frank hardly acknowledges any difference between the parties on the issue, and that's nuts.
But that's not all! Frank annoys me on budgeting, too, by claiming:
many budget experts agree that federal budgets simply can’t be balanced with spending cuts alone. We’ll also need substantial additional revenue, most of which could be generated by a carbon tax."Can't"? Politically, perhaps, but that needs an explanation. Otherwise, of course the budget can be balanced with spending cuts alone. Just because they would be unpopular don't mean it couldn't happen. After, all, by that standard a carbon tax that increased the price of gasoline by $3/gallon also "can't" be done.
There's a point to this. I've been very insistent that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney should be called out for making budget promises that really don't add up: mathematically, they really can't, for example, slash tax rates by 20%, save the tax treatments that they say they want to save, keep middle-class taxes from rising, and achieve revenue neutrality. Can't be done, and they deserve to be absolutely slammed for it. But that's not the same kind of "can't" that Frank is talking about. It's fair to hold Republicans responsible for the cuts that a spending-only balance budget program would make, but not accurate to say that such a budget isn't possible. It's important, in my view, to reserve the "can't" for when it's really needed. Which, alas, is all too often.