Friday, July 10, 2009

CO2 as a controlled cash cow

As we do from time to time, WB is stealing borrowing from its sister blog because topics have overlapped nicely....

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi is a master of The Rant — and the clear successor to the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in the "gonzo journalism" department. But his latest eruption of molten opinion, "The Great American Bubble Machine," in the current issue of RS has some major blind spots.

The piece is lengthy attack on Goldman Sachs, and on Barack Obama for staffing the White House with a number of key Goldman characters who, according to Taibbi, are manipulating this President just as they manipulated the last one, engineering legislation that, while claiming to be good for the country and good for the world, will first and foremost be good for Goldman Sachs. Everyone else comes fifth — and gets screwed in the process.

It's at the end of the attack, when Taibbi addresses Goldman's role in "helping" to combat climate change through supporting cap and trade limits on carbon emissions, that he goes blind, writing:

"If cap and trade succeeds, won't we all be saved from the catastrophe of global warming? Maybe — but cap and trade, as envisioned by Goldman Sachs, is really just a carbon tax structured so that private interests collect the revenues. Instead of simply imposing a fixed government levy on carbon pollution and forcing unclean energy producers to pay for the mess they make, cap and trade will allow a small tribe of greedy-as-hell Wall Street swine to turn yet another commodities market into a private tax collection scheme."

WB hates to take the side of "swine" in any argument, but in this case, we need to face facts. First, the "unclean energy producers" are... well, us. The consumers of electricity and gasoline and natural gas (methane) and propane and firewood and charcoal and all of the other things that burn and release CO2. (We won't even get into our culture's maniacal consumption of things that consume energy.) The way the United States and its proud and avowed capitalist system works is that producers produce what consumers demand. Nobody does anything that doesn't make money. There is no altruism involved, unless it's a good guise for generating more revenue. This is not an attack, nor even a critique; it's just an explanation of fact.

And: if the U.S. government were to "simply impos[e] a fixed levy" (i.e. tax) on carbon, as Taibbi advocates, then this is what would happen: four years after signing the legislation, the President would be voted out of office, along with all of the members of Congress who supported it with him. A new crew would come in, all of them wearing "GOP" patches on their sleeves, and repeal the tax in the name of "freedom from big government."

That is why, in a capitalist system, you use capitalism to get things done. Not altruism, not ethics, not intellectualism, not legislation or the balance of powers. You let the bankers and their clients get rich, and since their clients include the owners and shareholders of the energy producers having CO2 limits imposed upon them, everyone's happy. If the companies don't scream, and the shareholders don't lose money (and instead gain it), and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have no Democrats or "liberals" to attack because it wasn't they who were demanding climate sanity, it was the financial system and the corporate world it supports, then we all win by losing.

It's a strange and demented way of doing things, but a society so tightly encapsulated in an unbreakable ideology of money ├╝ber alles has to take what it can get. It's Progress through Profit and Prosperity, Carbon Control through Cash and Currency — and who know, maybe someone can copyright those slogans and get rich selling bumper stickers and T-shirts.

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