Enviros struggle to put a positive spin on France’s carbon tax revolt

By Chris White

Environmentalists are searching for ways to explain why French President Emmanuel Macron’s full-throated effort to tackle global warming with higher gas taxes caused France’s working class to riot in the streets.

Some activists are claiming France failed to find a way nudge people away from fossil fuels while understanding the plight of the middle class. Still others believe high taxes are still a viable option for shifting away from oil products.

“Like everywhere else, the question in France is how to find a way of combining ecology and equality,” Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, told The Washington Post.

He added: “Citizens mostly see punitive public policies when it comes to the environment: taxes, more taxes and more taxes after that. No one has the solution, and we can only see the disaster that’s just occurred in France on this question.”

Cautrès was referring to Macron’s decision on Tuesday to temporarily suspend a highly unpopular gas tax increase he imposed in January to fight climate change. Macron’s about face came after weeks of protesting and rioting that left parts of Paris in shambles.

Other academics shared similar viewpoints.

“Higher taxes on energy have always been a hard sell, politically,” N. Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard University, told reporters. “The members of the American Economic Association are convinced of their virtue. But the median citizen is not.”

Much of the turmoil comes amid Macron’s insistence on banning all oil and gas drilling by 2040. France is not the only European country attempting to ding fossil fuels. The plan is designed to combat climate change, a problem Macron and others believe poses an existential threat. Part of the gambit requires high taxes.

French citizens are currently paying $1.73 per liter in American dollars, which is roughly $6.57 per gallon. The bulk of the price comes from oil prices increases – France gets nearly 99 percent of its fuel from imports. But the gas tax increase, enacted in January, is equivalent to up to 25 cents a gallon.

Jerry Taylor, head of the Niskanen Center, staked out a slightly different position – his group supports carbon taxes. He noted in a Twitter thread Tuesday that there is a big difference in fuel prices between France and the U.S.

“A carbon tax of $10/ton would increase gasoline prices by about 10 cents/gallon,” Taylor wrote. “Thus, to get U.S. fuel prices to the threshold that inflamed French citizens, we’d have to impose about a $400 carbon tax.” He was comparing the two countries’ gas prices to refute claims that carbon pries lead to upheaval.

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5 thoughts on “Enviros struggle to put a positive spin on France’s carbon tax revolt

  1. Any tax, including a carbon tax, passing through the hands of government suffers from “the sticky fingers syndrome”, 2 dollars go in about 1.5 dollars come out. The difference stays to feed the growing government bureaucracy.

    The key word missing in most discussions is UNILATERAL. VT’s government imposing on Vermonters a unilateral carbon tax is like shooting them in the feet.

    If the carbon tax were nationwide, I would support it.

    The carbon tax would:

    – Impose a $10/ton tax of carbon emitted in 2017, increasing to $100/ton in 2027.
    – Generate about $100 million in state revenue in 2019, about $520 million in 2027.
    – Be added to the fuel prices at gas stations and fuel oil/propane dealers.
    – Drivers should expect a tax increase of 9 c/gal of gasoline in 2018, increasing to about 89 cents in 2027.
    – Homeowners, schools, hospitals, businesses, etc., should expect a tax increase of 58 c/gal of propane and $1.02/gal of heating oil and diesel fuel in 2027.
    – A typical household (two wage earners, two cars, in a free-standing house) would pay additional taxes in 2027 of about:
    – Some of the carbon tax extortion would be at the pump, some when the monthly fuel bills arrive, and some as higher prices of OTHER goods and services.

    Driving = $0.89/gal x 2 x 12000 miles/y x 1/(30 miles/gal) = $712/y
    Heating = $1.02/gal x 800 gal/y = $816/y
    Total carbon tax in 2027 = $1528/y
    Sales tax reduction 5/6 x 1400 = $233/y
    Net tax increase = $1295/y

    – The hypocritical sop of reducing the sales tax from 6 to 5 percent would save that household about $233 in sales taxes, for a net loss of $1295 in 2027. That means such households, the backbone of the Vermont economy, would have about $1300/y less to make ends meet.
    – Many of these households have had stagnant or declining, spendable real incomes (after taxes, fees, surcharges; other recurring expenses, etc.), plus dealing with a near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy, since 2000.
    – With less real income, and higher real prices for goods and services, they also would have to make their own energy efficiency improvements.

    • Funny you say on one hand how bad taxes are through the sticky finger syndrome but then say you’d support a national carbon tax…

      All increased taxes accomplish is diminish economic activity throughout the affected areas which you point out for some reason. It also feeds the government’s desire for more money to spend on it’s more ardent supporters.

  2. Left-leaning Democrat politicians have adopted an unwritten “economic development policy”: Maximize the schlepping of federal funds into Vermont to start/subsidize government programs, and start/subsidize government/business partnerships, which, as a side benefit, create a spectrum of subsidy-dependent constituencies, that produce reliable votes year after year.

    These programs and partnerships usually pay too little in state and local taxes to more than offset their subsidies, i.e., they do not provide a significant net gain. Annual government budget deficits are offset by means of annual increases of taxes, fees and surcharges imposed on the near-zero, real growth private sector, The “policy” has failed to create a vibrant, growing private sector, with prosperous households and businesses, since 2000.

    If the carbon tax bill were enacted, special interests, seeing this large source of funds, would pile on it, and grab as much of it as possible, as happened with the ARRA funds a few years ago. The Vermont approach would be complicated and lead to more bureaucracy and rules and regulations. It would definitely not be hands-off.

    For Vermont to impose a unilateral carbon tax would make its economy less competitive versus other states, i.e., more brain drain, and fewer good-paying, steady, full-time jobs, with good benefits in the private sector. The carbon tax would be another headwind for the near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy.

    The carbon tax would further aggrandize Vermont’s government, which is too large, too inefficient, spending too much money, is bloated with programs, and is running annual deficits, that are offset with annual increases of taxes, fees and surcharges, as if money grows on trees.

    The carbon tax would transfer up to $520 million per year, less sales tax reductions, into incompetent, inefficient government hands for “disbursements”; EB-5, Health care website, Montpelier Heating Plant, etc. come to mind.

  3. Jerry Taylor, a death by 1000 paper cuts is still a death.
    If not driving a petroleum consuming vehicle nor heating you home here in VT would save the earth then it starts with you and Bernie Sanders, climate hawk who spend $300K on private jet travel per month. These suggested taxes only affect the working class as the 1% ers could care less.

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