Krauthammer’s Protection Racket

It’s always a shame to see smart people acting stupid, which is why syndicated columnist/Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer’s intentional idiocy is such a deep disappointment.

I have long advocated for a tangible global agreement to curb carbon. I do remain skeptical about the arrogant, ignorant claim that climate science is “settled,” that it can predict with accuracy future “global warming” effects and that therefore we must cut emissions radically, immediately and unilaterally if necessary, even at potentially ruinous economic and social cost.

I nonetheless believe (and have written since 1988) that pumping increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing. We don’t know nearly enough about the planet’s homeostatic mechanisms for dealing with it, but prudence would dictate reducing CO2 emissions when and where we can.

How nice. Since 1988, he’s been saying that “pumping increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing.” Any thoughts, Mr. Krauthammer, about the rapacious fossil-fuel industry that has used front groups to attack any strong advocate of reducing CO2 emissions since 1988? Any thoughts on Fox News’s own role in attacking those advocates? Of course not.

Back in 2008, in the pages of the Weekly Standard, Krauthammer articulated slightly more coherent thoughts on the climate issue, calling for the implementation of a “net-zero gas tax” to reduce CO2 emissions. Krauthammer observed:

High gas prices, whether achieved by market forces or by government imposition, encourage fuel economy. In the short term, they simply reduce the amount of driving. In the longer term, they lead to the increased (voluntary) shift to more fuel-efficient cars. They render redundant and unnecessary the absurd CAFE standards–the ever-changing Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations that mandate the fuel efficiency of various car and truck fleets–which introduce terrible distortions into the market. As the consumer market adjusts itself to more fuel-efficient autos, the green car culture of the future that environmentalists are attempting to impose by decree begins to shape itself unmandated. This shift has the collateral environmental effect of reducing pollution and CO2 emissions, an important benefit for those who believe in man-made global warming and a painless bonus for agnostics (like me) who nonetheless believe that the endless pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing…

Here is how it works. The simultaneous enactment of two measures: A $1 increase in the federal gasoline tax–together with an immediate $14 a week reduction of the FICA tax. Indeed, that reduction in payroll tax should go into effect the preceding week, so that the upside of the swap (the cash from the payroll tax rebate) is in hand even before the downside (the tax) kicks in.
The math is simple. The average American buys roughly 14 gallons of gasoline a week. The $1 gas tax takes $14 out of his pocket. The reduction in payroll tax puts it right back. The average driver comes out even, and the government makes nothing on the transaction. (There are, of course, more drivers than workers–203 million vs. 163 million. The 10 million unemployed would receive the extra $14 in their unemployment insurance checks. And the elderly who drive–there are 30 million licensed drivers over 65–would receive it with their Social Security payments.)

Revenue neutrality is essential. No money is taken out of the economy. Washington doesn’t get fatter. Nor does it get leaner. It is simply a transfer agent moving money from one activity (gasoline purchasing) to another (employment) with zero net revenue for the government.

Revenue neutrality for the consumer is perhaps even more important. Unlike the stand-alone gas tax, it does not drain his wallet, which would produce not only insuperable popular resistance but also a new drag on purchasing power in the midst of a severe recession. Unlike other tax rebate plans, moreover, the consumer doesn’t have to wait for a lump-sum reimbursement at tax time next April, after having seethed for a year about government robbing him every time he fills up. The reimbursement is immediate. Indeed, at its inception, the reimbursement precedes the tax expenditure.

In 2011, Krauthammer reaffirmed his support for the “net-zero gas tax,” telling New York Times writer Andrew Revkin:

The point of gasoline taxes is to reduce consumption/demand — with all of the attendant beneficial side effects — not to fund other projects, however lovely they sound. Once you break the discipline of having every penny of the tax go back to the taxpayer immediately through the payroll tax reduction, you’ve turned the gas tax into a slush fund where politicians pick winners and losers, play favorites and dole out patronage…

Only a Republican could do it, and even then it would be difficult. The most prominent support of my idea when I published the article was from [then-] Senator [Richard] Lugar.

Of course, Krauthammer must have realized that if he kept on talking about Republicans needing to embrace gas taxes, revenue-neutral or otherwise, he would be effectively drummed out of the U.S. conservative movement, like Bruce Bartlett, Michael Smerconish, David Brock, Michael Lind and Glenn Loury before him. Can’t rock the ideological boat too much, you know.

Krauthammer is desperately clinging to ideology–and the fear of being punished for violating the terms and conditions of that ideology–in the face of a grim reality. It’s sad to watch, no? I assume there are no mirrors in Krauthammer’s home; how can he possibly stand to look at himself?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.