David R. Henderson  

Clyburn Undercuts Own Case

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In an otherwise good article in Friday's Wall Street Journal, "How Can Greens Make Themselves Less White?", Journal writer Naomi Schaefer Riley fails to make a telling point against Democratic Rep. James Clyburn. Riley points out that Clyburn is trying to link the issue of environmentalism and the well-being of black people. Clyburn's view is that black people are disproportionately hurt by environmental problems.

One of the issues in environmentalism, of course, is global warming and one of the proposals that various critics of global warming advocate is higher energy prices, either through cap-and-trade or through taxes on energy.

So what are we to make of the following statement from a report by the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, a report that, according to Ms. Riley, Clyburn relied on? The report stated:

African Americans spend thirty percent more of their income on energy than non-Hispanic whites.

I don't know if that's true. But if it is true, then it follows that any explicit or implicit tax on energy would disproportionately hurt black Americans. So, contra Clyburn, they have a strong reason to oppose such taxes.

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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Adam writes:

Both (race and the environment) are political lightening rods, it's hard to say what they will mean when they converge? Armageddon?

RL writes:

Planet to be destroyed. Women and minorities most affected...

Zdeno writes:

The bar for "otherwise good" has been lowered, evidently.

First there's the subtext of the article, which is that X problem is more serious if the people to be harmed by it aren't white.

And of course, the global warming paranoia is a fraud, orchestrated consciously by some for political and career gain and unconsciously by others to fill an emotional need for worship, purity and self-sacrifice.

Finally, even if we give Riley/Clyburn these two rather contentious points, she is still an idiot at best for not looking up the one statistic that would be most telling wrt who is actually hurt by the most widely considered government policy whose intent is to SAVE THE WORLD from global warming.

People these days...


OneEyedMan writes:

You cannot conclude anything from the percentage of the budget devoted to energy. Their demand could be highly elastic. If their demand were highly elastic and the money used to offset other taxes or provide cash transfers, the could benefit from such a tax.

Evan writes:


So if the percentage breakdown of income devoted to energy bills by blacks is true, then, yes, higher energy bills would have an adverse effect on disposable income - in the short term. But could it be possible that Clyburn was trying to point out that sectional shifts towards more sustainable energy sources, though necessarily brought upon poor regions through short term pain, would bring long term gain?

Moreover, any cap-and-trade or carbon tax model to make its way through Congress will have offsetting budgetary provisions and/or rebates returned directly to consumers - probably lower incomes consumers at that. Whatever the model, the only realistic way it will succeed politically will be with some type of safety net for those who will be hardest hit.

And to Zdeno:

"And of course, the global warming paranoia is a fraud, orchestrated consciously by some for political and career gain and unconsciously by others to fill an emotional need for worship, purity and self-sacrifice."

Projection much? (read with as much snark as you can humanly muster)

RickC writes:

I caught a program on TV the other night about the people who live in western Alaska. My wife and I lived there a few years ago so when I saw that it was about the use of the Kuskokwim River as road during the winter I had to watch.

The program followed truckers who were delivering much needed fuel oil to the villages up river from Bethel, the main hub of the area. The narrator claimed that the average income in the villages hovered around $25,000 a year, which I thought was probably exaggerated.

The cost of the fuel oil was $11 a gallon. Long, brutal winters mean that the task of keeping warm costs each Yupik family a majority of their annual income.

Every time I hear about these tax schemes, which are meant to push us to cleaner fuels, or end our dependence on foreign supplies, I think about those people.


The President himself said that we would see a substantial rise in fuel costs as they try to push us to cleaner energy sources. This is leaving aside, of course, the fact that there are no viable alternatives available now or in the near future. And there is a large element amongst the "greens" who won't even allow a discussion on nuclear power even though electricity production is the number one problem we face, if you buy into the AGW movement.

OneEyedMan writes:

You won't get much argument from me about nuclear power. As far as I know it is the most economical and reliable of the zero-carbon emitting power forms.

However, what I say stands. It doesn't matter that they spend a lot of their money on power now. What matters is the change after they do so. They may give up their air-conditioners and put their lights on timers, and otherwise save a lot of energy in response to carbon taxes. If they easily can, then the tax burden won't fall on them as much as it does on those white folks living in houses in the desert 30 miles from the grocery store with much higher incomes.

Against the Grain writes:

Let's not forget about the transit greenness. If we remove the transit subsidies to get to a level playing field and applied a carbon tax or placed transit systems in the cap and trade system tranist ridership would go through the floor.

Quoting from Mike Munger on Econtalk "If it takes more resources than it saves it ain't green."

I am probably contrary to most libertarians in believing that global warming is likely enough that we should be trying to find market instruments to address the costs, but what I have seen to date is much non-sense.

Think about the carbon foot print from the spenders of the carbon tax or cap and trade profits. (You may multiply a Keyesian multiplier if your discusant supports the stimulus.) Consideration of the intertemporal potential future harm may best be addressed by developing a strong sustainable economy that will provide the resource for the future to deal with the changes that inevitable come.

I am quite sure that the earth was a molten mass at a much higher tempurature prior to our existence and that the change of global cooling was critical to setting up the conditions that we currently experience today. Think of the impact on our lives if some one tried to change the rate of change back then, or the futileness of the effort.

Those who desire constancy don't relize they are only a derivative or integral away from change looking at the same data. It just depends on what frame of reference you are in.

John Thacker writes:

A similar issue arises with what is commonly called "environmental justice." Certain poor parts of the country (esp. areas of Louisiana near the Mississippi) have a lot of fairly heavily polluting industries. OTOH, they pay well.

Outside campaigners frequently complain about this and the siting of new plants. OTOH, the locals generally prefer the jobs and sometimes get upset at the outside environmentalists who come to protest.

Owen Wallace writes:

How is it disproportional if 30% is a proportion? if anything it is completely proportional.

Craig Howard writes:

"they have a strong reason to oppose such taxes"

Unless, of course, they're convinced that, as one of the Democrats' special-interest-groups, some sort of compensation will be offered.

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