Old Arguments Over Sarah Palin's New Career


600 palin protrait wikimedia july 2009.png

This is jumping back in time a bit, but I do want to respond at greater length to this post from Rob Harrison of Conservatives 4 Palin and this post from Stephen Spruiell of the National Review. They are unhappy because I wrote, contra Sarah Palin's op-ed, "I don't think cap and trade has many supporters who think it's the best way to become 'less dependent on foreign energy sources.'"

Spruiell says this is "ignorant" because prominent supporters of the Waxman-Markey bill have said the bill will help reduce dependence on foreign oil. But I stand by my claim entirely, and I invite Spruiell to reread my post a tad more carefully and tell me why it's mutually exclusive with the evidence he introduces. If Spruiell and Harrison want to, we can certainly do a tedious interpretive dance over the meaning of "know," "cap and trade," "many," and "best" (along with every other word in my original sentence), but that doesn't sound to me like time well spent. (Definitions of "time well spent" can, of course, vary.)

On the more general subject: I've written this many, many times before, but I don't think the right standard for judging a cap and trade bill should be jobs created or national economic gains in the near term. Some Democrats suggest that a cap and trade bill will do these things (create "green jobs" and so forth) but they aren't telling the truth. Or at least I doubt they mean what they say. The primary purpose of the bill -- which is perfectly obvious and widely known and not at all worth debating -- is to reduce the level and rate of carbon emissions in the country, in the hopes of reducing the level and rate of emissions around the world.

I think we should do this because the social cost of consuming carbon exceeds the private cost of consuming carbon. You might not agree that the cost is real, or you might not agree that tradable emissions permits are the best way to reduce it. That's fine. But the other arguments really are secondary, and claiming otherwise is one big orgy of disingenuousness on both sides of the aisle. What I and many others found amazing about the Palin op-ed was that it said nothing about pollution or emissions or climate change. It ignored the primary debate entirely and wandered straight into a baffling ancillary argument that no one was having.

A couple of other points: It's true, as Spruiell says, that raising the price of energy will "reduce dependence" on foreign oil. This is true in the completely uninteresting sense that raising the price of something will make it more expensive. So sure, raising the price of fuel will make it more expensive. I cannot for the life of me figure out why this should apply uniquely to foreign oil, and I can't find anyone making the argument that it does. Perhaps Spruiell wants to make that argument, but I doubt it.

Finally, Rob Harrison asks that I "color him dubious" of the claim that the current cap and trade bill will, according the Congressional Budget office, benefit the least well off quintile of Americans. Allow me to color him less dubious: The CBO report in question is right here (PDF) and if Harrison flips to the last page he will find a chart with the estimated net cost by quintile. I hope we can all agree that this was just a simple factual error in Palin's op-ed. I somehow doubt we will.

Photo: That's Wikimedia's new commons portrait of Palin.  

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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