I can imagine a few explanations. One is that most conservative pundits have allowed that portion of the brain that one uses to analyze a substantive question of national policy to atrophy to the extent that they don’t understand why this is something that conservatives should like. Another is corruption; this proposal would be bad interest group politics and the energy companies are major financiers of the right. A third is hackishness; this proposal would put you in disagreement with George W. Bush and other Republican Party politicians. Last is the politics of resentment; conservative pundits just hate environmentalists too much to see the forest for the trees. [sic] ~Matt Yglesias
Yglesias proposes here some possible explanations why there aren’t many conservative pundits who advocate a carbon tax despite its purportedly great political advantages. While listing those who do support such a proposal, Ross also offers an explanation for why pundits, whose job description rarely involves introducing interesting or new policy proposals, aren’t pushing this or any other potentially controversial proposal. Ross’ explanation makes sense of pundit indifference, but Yglesias’ answers sum up fairly well most of the actual political reasons why a carbon tax proposal would go nowhere today on the right. A proposal that goes against corporate interests, the administration and offends mainstream conservative knee-jerk anti-environmentalism all at the same time is obviously doomed from the start as far as most conservatives today are concerned. As for the pundits themselves, they have no incentive to swim against the tide of anti-environmentalist, pro-administration sentiment that remains widespread in their regular readership. A carbon tax is the sort of thing Mike Huckabee would probably propose, and that is exactly why conservatives will want nothing to do with it (much as they already want nothing to do with the rest of Huckabee’s tax policy).
There are at least three additional reasons why you will not see a lot of enthusiasm for the carbon tax on the right once the policy ideas begin to filter down from the wonks to everyone else. There is the die-hard small-government response that lower taxes in one area shouldn’t be replaced by another tax. “Starve the beast” isn’t a big vote-winner, I agree, but among the true believing anti-statists, who are actually disproportionately represented in the middle and lower echelons of movement conservatism, it remains one of their hoped-for goals. Regardless of what a carbon tax is supposed to achieve, these are the people who will oppose it because it is a tax and the overall government take will not significantly diminish; the stated purpose of reducing consumption in something, regardless of what that something is, will offend another batch of economic conservatives who seem to think that consumption is man’s purpose here on earth. There would also be a pretty intense reaction among voters against a tax that would obviously raise the cost of living for everyone, since this puts another financial strain on working and middle-class families that will feel as if they cannot afford it (and in many cases, whether for reasons of indebtedness or not, they actually cannot). Direct taxes are no better for these people, but the voters who want lower taxes do not simply want to see their money extracted in a different way. The middle-of-the-road, less obsessively anti-tax voters who might even be sympathetic to the goal of the policy (i.e., reducing carbon emissions) are not so sympathetic to the goal that they want to see higher energy costs.
During a time in which economic populism is becoming more popular, because job security is worsening and outsourcing has become an ever-greater problem, it seems to me that the party of the carbon tax is the party that will implode all across the Midwest. If conservative pundits are as reflexively pro-corporate, pro-administration and anti-environmentalist as Yglesias makes them out to be, they would just need to sit back and wait to reap the benefits of a backlash against a Democratic candidate proposing a carbon tax.
The party of the carbon tax will probably not do very well elsewhere, but those areas hardest hit by the glories of free trade will probably not be eager to add yet another cost to doing business in the United States that will encourage still more industry to relocate in foreign climes. Add to this the visceral, nay, reptilian response of the average suburbanite to the suggestion that their ability to consume ought to be challenged and questioned, all for the sake of the alleged benefits stemming from the reduction of carbon emissions, and you have the next great “populist” anti-tax movement just waiting to be directed by a savvy pol. This last point may be the most important for explaining why this is an idea fit only for policy wonks: the powerful consumerist hatred of any conservationist appeal that says that consumption of anything ought to be reduced vastly outmatches in intensity any feeling of approval for something like the carbon tax.
Perhaps if the policy were sold as a step towards energy independence, it might manage to win the support of non-interventionist conservatives who already think we should extract ourselves militarily as much as possible from the Near East. However, if we were to pursue the nuclear route and oil fields ceased to be strategically important for America, what rationale would the empire have left? Has Krauthammer really thought this one through all the way?