Just Don’t Call it a Carbon Tax

Author Tomia, original image Polylerus, courtesy Wikipedia

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A new study in Psychological Science [“A dirty word or a dirty world?” pdf] shows that Republicans and Independents would approve a “carbon offset” identical in every way to a “carbon tax” as long as it isn’t called a tax.

Democrats would vote for it either way.

Researchers at Columbia ran an experiment where volunteers—self-identified as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents—read about a program that would increase the cost of carbon-producing activities but whose proceeds would be used to pay for alternative energies or carbon capture and sequestration.

For half the volunteers this surcharge was labeled a “carbon offset.” The other saw it labeled as a “carbon tax.” Details were identical.

The participants then had to choose between purchasing two identical items, like airline tickets, only one cost more because it included the surcharge. Results:

  • If it was called an offset, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents tended to select the more expensive and environmentally-friendly product
  • All parties were also equally likely to support making the surcharge mandatory
  • If it was called a tax, Democrats opted for the costlier item but Republicans and Independents were more likely to choose the cheaper item
  • Republicans and Independents would not support legislation mandating a tax

Wow. Tax really is a four-letter word.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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