Tag Archive | Obama

Linking taxes to empathy

I look at how logical Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands are [because they enacted a carbon tax] and wonder how we in the US are still so positively stupid.

(I’m not alone in thinking so.)

It’s the one tax that both conservative and liberal economists agree on. You tax the amount of gasoline you use, the amount of garbage you don’t recycle (since it releases greenhouse gases once it’s sitting in a landfill), and the amount of energy you use to heat your home. The result: more money for the government (which wouldn’t be in such a fiscal mess otherwise), and less pollution. If you design it so that lower-income households are subsidized, it doesn’t lower consumption or increase inequality.

You can’t blame Obama entirely because any environmentally-progressive thing he might want to do would be vetoed by the Republican-controlled House (though it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try). And you can’t blame Republicans in the House entirely because someone elected them. Could you blame the people that elected the Republicans?

I used to think that people who were homophobic, conservative, and tax-evading didn’t have the same access to good education. But then I remembered Alex. He and I went to the same public middle school and high school, and by his senior year, most of his opinions were already formed. He was smart and capable–he just didn’t care about most other people. And there’s the problem: no public school curriculum in the US teaches empathy.

Are all environmentalists good people? Probably not. Are all environmentally apathetic people “bad?” Certainly not. But for every person who opposes having taxes, I must ask: will they still refuse to pay taxes once they need the services of a fireman, policeman, public school teacher, or even sanitation engineer (garbage collector)? Once they or their children somehow end up needing social services support? Why should it be different for our shared environment and climate? Why do we need gigantic natural disasters to foster any significant action?

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The Future of International Relations

Many people now believe that the future of international development lies not with large organizations like the World Bank or USAID or UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), but with nimble entrepreneurs and small businesses. Alex Evans often talks of a movement not towards a G20 world but towards a Gø world. Parag Khanna, of TED fame, likes to talk of structural change (moving from a world of unipolarity where the US is all-powerful to a multipolar world with multiple loci of influence) and of systemic change (with hordes of influential new actors other than countries, like cities and corporations).

While I can’t always buy into such black-and-white arguments, there is some credibility to their claims—especially (and hopefully) to their predictions that collaboration (“proactive”) will become a more useful tactic than diplomacy (“reactive”). Which is why I was disappointed to hear President Obama’s State of the Union address yesterday, in which he boldly claimed that the United States must win.

Why must everything be about winning? Since when is economic growth a game? Since when is toying with protectionist trade policies, unemployment, war in multiple countries, and human rights abuses a game? This, if anything, is precisely the reason why the US won’t win—because it places itself on a pedestal of excellence, alienates any and every neighbor and friend, and gives more reasons for potential enemies to become definite enemies. If there’s any explanation for why the US has gotten this far, it’s because of hardworking citizens and entrepreneurs—and not because of our government and its quest for total domination.