July 5, 2012

TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT, NOT WHAT YOU DO:

The Most Sensible Tax of All (YORAM BAUMAN and SHI-LING HSU, July 4, 2012, NY Times)

ON Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia's carbon tax -- a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province -- increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

The only bad news is that this is the last increase scheduled in British Columbia. In our view, the reason is simple: the province is waiting for the rest of North America to catch up so that its tax system will not become unbalanced or put energy-intensive industries at a competitive disadvantage.

The United States should jump at the chance to adopt a similar revenue-neutral tax swap. It's an opportunity to reduce existing taxes, clean up the environment and increase personal freedom and energy security.

Let's start with the economics. Substituting a carbon tax for some of our current taxes -- on payroll, on investment, on businesses and on workers -- is a no-brainer. Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions? The idea has support from economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left. That's because economists know that a carbon tax swap can reduce the economic drag created by our current tax system and increase long-run growth by nudging the economy away from consumption and borrowing and toward saving and investment. [...]

What would a British Columbia-style carbon tax look like in the United States? According to our calculations, a British Columbia-style $30 carbon tax would generate about $145 billion a year in the United States. That could be used to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent, and afterward there would still be $35 billion left over.
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Posted by at July 5, 2012 6:33 PM
  

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