Carbon Taxes and the Budget Deficit

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Matt Yglesias wants the liberal community to drop its longtime love affair with a VAT as a way of raising revenue and instead start showing some love for a carbon tax:

I really think the VAT is a decent idea whose time is past and is now obsolete. VAT recommends itself as an economically efficient revenue raiser, with the downside being that it’s regressive. The result is that from a 2010 point of view it’s completely dominated by the idea of a carbon tax. A carbon tax is also an efficient, but regressive, form of consumption tax. But by specifically taxing consumption of carbon dioxide emissions it also manages to contribute to solving a massive ecological problem. The political obstacles to a carbon tax are formidable, but so are the obstacles to a VAT. Under the circumstances it would be tragic for a political coalition to muster the power necessary to implement a hefty regressive consumption tax that isn’t specifically targeted at greenhouse gas pollution.

I agree, and the regressive nature of both kinds of taxes can be minimized with decent implementation choices. There are plenty of plans on the table for doing this.

But I’ll add one other thing. A few days ago I wrote a poorly phrased post in which I said that any plan for reducing the budget deficit should also include a plan for reducing the trade deficit. It sounded vaguely as if I was suggesting that reducing the trade deficit would directly affect the budget deficit, but that’s not really what I meant. What I meant was that, other things equal, you can only reduce the budget deficit if you also reduce the trade deficit at the same time. One corollary of this is that policies to reduce the budget deficit are more likely to be effective if they work with policies to reduce the trade deficit rather than against them.

A carbon tax is a good example of this. On one level, it raises revenue and helps close the budget deficit. But it also makes energy more expensive and is likely to reduce our imports of oil. Whether it actually does or not depends on a lot of other issues, but at least it pushes in the right direction. You’re giving budget deficit reduction a tailwind instead of a headwind.

So: a carbon tax is good for the environment, probably good for the trade deficit, and therefore probably also helpful for reducing the budget deficit. What’s not to like?

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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