Friedman: Let Gov't, Not Companies, Reap Carbon Tax Revenue

     Who wants higher taxes? Vice president-elect Joe Biden calls paying tax “patriotic.” Add New York Times resident wizard-of-smart and columnist Thomas Friedman to that list.

     Friedman appeared on CNBC’s Nov. 13 “Squawk on the Street” to promote his book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America.” At the end of his interview with co-hosts Mark Haines and Erin Burnett, Friedman criticized politicians who oppose increasing taxes on energy.

     “You know, people sometimes say to me, ‘How can you have a carbon tax?’” Friedman said. “If you were running for office and you offered a carbon tax, your opponent would say, ‘There goes my opponent, Mr. Friedman. He wants now a gasoline tax. He’s never seen a tax he didn’t like.”

     Friedman’s attitude was based on a mix of government-knows-best and protectionism. He insisted Americans already pay a tax imposed by foreign governments on energy and therefore the attitude should be to pay the tax and keep the money here.

     “I’ll tell you what I’d say back – I’d say, ‘Let’s get one thing straight pal – we’re both for a tax. If you don’t think there’s a tax on oil being imposed on you by OPEC, the world’s biggest cartel, then you’re not paying attention. It just happens to be that I like my taxes to go to the U.S. Treasury to support U.S. schools and U.S. roads and U.S. buildings and U.S. commerce. My opponent seems to be indifferent to that,’” Friedman said. “‘He wants his taxes to go to the Russian, the Saudi and Iranian treasury.’”

     Friedman missed two important points – with the so-called “tax” imposed by foreign governments, Americans get something substantive in return – energy in the form of gasoline, heating oil or any other imported fossil fuel. Friedman’s extra tax might give taxpayers the satisfaction of giving more money to a bloated bureaucratic institution – the federal government – and less product to fuel automobiles and heat homes.

     Also, energy prices are dictated by market forces. For example, over the last month and a half, the price of oil has fallen from nearly $100 a barrel to $56 a barrel as of Nov. 12. Fuel taxes are traditionally set per gallon rather than tied to the price, making them unsusceptible to market forces.

     Still Friedman insisted consumer dollars in the hands of the federal government was a better argument for politicians to make.

     “Well, it’s just a little tick I have, Mark,” Friedman said. “I like my money to go to build my country and if you can’t win that debate you don’t belong in politics.”

     Friedman has voiced support for other proposals to spend more taxpayer money on environmental causes. At a book event Sept. 23, he said that any construction financed by government-funded mortgages should be certified “green” according to the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.