Carbon Tax for Dummies

Listening to the tenor of the debate over our upcoming Carbon Tax is a bit depressing. Nobody seems to want to explain it in simple terms. Allow me.

Up until now, anyone can spew out pollution into the air we breathe at zero cost to them. Whether or not you believe climate change is real*, polluting the air is no good. Economists call this an “Externality”. This is a fancy word for a cost that a business doesn’t pay. Cost to mining company of polluting waterways and land in third-world country? Zero. Externality. Cost to cigarette companies of smoking-related disease or litter? Zero. Externality. Cost to coal-burning power station of the CO2 and other gases belched into the air? Zero. Externality. Of course all of these things will have to be paid for later, by society as a whole (and maybe our species in the end). So it’s not that these things have no cost, it’s just that the cost is pushed onto someone else.

Let’s say we have two electricity retailers: Green Energy and Dirty Power. Green Energy uses Hydro, Wind and Solar and has almost no emissions. Electricity from them costs $105. Dirty Power has a coal-fired power station and plenty of emissions. Electricity from them costs $100. So most people buy electricity from Dirty Power.

The Carbon tax comes in at $10 and now electricty from Dirty Power costs $110. Electricity from Green Energy still costs $105. With the $10 the government has collected, $5 is given back to consumers so they can now buy electricity from Green Energy, leaving the consumer no worse off. The other $5 goes to creating and improving clean energy production. So now more people will buy their energy from Green Energy because it’s cheaper, and less from Dirty Power because they’re more expensive (and polluting).

And the managers of Dirty Power will start investing in clean energy because if they want to stay in business and remain competitive, they need to lower their emissions so their product is cheaper.

* If you don’t believe climate change is real, please stop being an idiot and do some research.

Schools and Bombs

(paraphrased from a bumper sticker seen this morning)

I will be happy when schools have all the money they need to educate our children and the military has to hold fetes and garage sales to buy bombs.

Why, as a society, do we get our priorities so completely backwards?


Some time ago I promised Nick that I would comment on the Rob Watts vs Andrew Bolt debate. Before reading this, go and listen to the debate.

“Debates” like this would suit Andrew Bolt down to the gound. While he likes to try to create the impression that he’s a brave conservative boldly stepping into the bearpit, he would love this sort of situation. Look at the terms: he gets to argue in favour of a vague assertion: that most staff and many students of universities are engaged in a left-wing “group think” that sees them all believing and saying the same things about the same issues. Quite a nebulous proposition, and of course he can cite various anecdotes to support this assertion. More on anecdotes later.

Of course, when it comes to his opponent, Rob Watts, if he attempts to make any generalisations about conservative columnists, we find that Bolt does not identify with those columnists. He will only engage over specific things he has written. So Watts has to defend all academia, but Bolt only has to defend specific things he’s written.

Looks like a pretty lopsided debate.

The “citing of anecdotes” I mentioned above is the core technique of many conservatives. One or more experiences are taken and a view formed that is then applied to all members of any specific group. This is garden-variety bigotry. For example, recently I read that John Howard still believes he was in the right over the children overboard saga because “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”. I still recall his lemon-mouthed comment that “these people” were the sort of people that would throw their children overboard. He lumps every asylum seeker into a basket of “these people”, based on the alleged (and subseqently proven to be false) actions of a few of them.

This is a favourite technique of Bolt and many other conservative columnists: you don’t need statistics, studies or other scientific facts when you have anecdotes and/or personal experiences that can be extrapolated into sweeping generalisations. After all, things that happened to you or your friends are facts. You can’t question the validity of what someone experienced. Some conservatives seem to like anecdotes more than personal experiences – you don’t have to defend or justify anecdotes. But the real fact is that the experiences of an individual have nothing to do with the characteristics of a population.

Now it’s time for a game of Andrew Bolt Bingo.

A sad day for Australia

Well, he did it. Johnny succeeded in scaring the swinging voters into returning him for another four years over the fear of higher interest rates.

Quite sobering really for a hopelessly optimistic progressive like me. I suppose I just need to realise that elections in this country are decided by middle class swinging voters who care nothing about the real issues in our society, nothing about social justice, nothing about foreign affairs, nothing about the real fundamentals of our economy (and the need to increase exports). All they care about is their whopping great mortgages and they’re prepared to return the worst prime minister we’ve ever had in the misguided hope that it has anything to do with interest rates whatsoever.

I’m not just making this up. Forget all the rubbish in the papers and on the TV. All you have to do is have a look at the vox pops in the papers today that asked voters what they were concerned about. The most common response was “I’m not interested/don’t understand any of the issues, I just voted Liberal because mum and dad did/because I don’t want to pay higher interest rates.”

So well done, Johnny. Your scare campaign succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.