SILENAS: Democrats Are Talking About Climate Change — But It Seems Like They Just Want To Raise Taxes

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Zilvinas Silenas Foundation for Economic Education
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Democratic presidential candidates took the stage once again Thursday night, this time in Houston, Texas.

Observers noted that not a single question on the economy was asked, though climate change remained a subject of discussion. Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised to cut CO2 emissions by 70 percent. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said he’d cut emissions by 100 percent.

The continued focus on climate change on the heels of CNN’s seven-hour “climate crisis” marathon is a bit of a shame. The truth is we’ve known for some time where most Democrats stand on the issue. Months ago Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released her “Green New Deal.” Then Sen. Bernie Sanders announced a similar Green New Deal. Not to be outdone, Sen. Kamala Harris announced her own $10 trillion version.

Regardless of your take on climate change, I think Americans need to ask themselves if these climate proposals stem from concern over the planet’s health or are primarily a means to advance an economic agenda. I say this because the bulk of the GND has nothing to do with climate change.

If you think I’m being unfair, I have a proposal for you. Take a green and a red highlighter, read the proposals, mark text that has to do with climate change in green, and text that has to do with left policy in red (leave the text that has nothing to do with either as is). I bet you will end up with a red-green layer cake. Or, as in my case, a watermelon—that is, a text that starts about the existential threat of climate change and then jumps to unions or taxing the rich.

This is not to argue whether unions or rich people are good. But what does it have to do with climate change? Regardless of the accuracy of AOC’s claims, what does “the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States” or “gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median” have to do with climate change?

Similar points can be found in the Sanders GND version. What does “Protecting the right of all workers to form a union without threat or intimidation from management” have to do with climate change? What does “Create a pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers and end exclusions for agricultural workers in labor laws” have to do with climate change?

I find these points disingenuous. AOC and Sanders start with the premise that we’re all going to be dead in 12 years unless every American bends to the will of their versions of a GND. Then they switch to partisan politics, like unions and inequity. Recall the movie Armageddon, where the planet-killing asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and the clock is ticking, and imagine the characters refusing to go to space over the color of their spacesuits or the fact that some components of their spaceship are manufactured in Taiwan.

The policies are full of proposals to increase taxes. More taxes for the fossil fuel industry, more taxes on the wealthy, taxes to create jobs, taxes to tax the newly-created jobs. While some of the taxes at least have a theoretical connection to climate change, many do not.

But even more importantly, there are only increases in taxes and no reductions in taxes to balance out the hikes. The idea is pretty simple. Taxes for energy are imposed in order to reduce the use of energy (whether they actually do or do not is a whole other debate). But if your objective is merely to reduce energy consumption, you should offset the energy taxes by reducing some other tax so taxpayers aren’t paying more overall. For example, for every increase in fuel tax, the government could decrease income or payroll tax.

A fiscally neutral setup makes sense. An income tax reduction would help families balance the increase in fuel prices. It would persuade a lot of people that the plan is about climate change and not merely about more taxes.

Of course, such tax swaps are complicated, but the fact that no GND even considers them makes one think that none of the Green-New-Dealers actually care about not overburdening working Americans with excessive taxation. After all, they present far more uncertain and complicated things (i.e. that government will invent very cheap batteries) as actual plans, not to mention ridiculous ones (i.e. “virtually free electricity”).

All this leads to a reasonable suspicion that higher taxes are part of the agenda, which of course brings me back to my original observation.

Are politicians using people’s concern over climate change to push through policies that have nothing to do with climate change?

Zilvinas Silenas is the president of the Foundation for Economic Education(FEE). He served from 2011-2019 as the president of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), bringing the organization and its free-market policy reform message to the forefront of Lithuanian public discourse.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.