Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring's Political Flowers Bloom
Guest Perspective/Roy Morrison
It's early Saturday morning in April and Sen. John McCain is on stage before a full house at Keene State College answering questions from anyone who comes to the mic. While the nation is just starting to focus on this fall's congressional elections, in New Hampshire, the 2008 presidential campaign is underway.
McCain is an engaging speaker, tolerant of hostile questioners. He takes heat for his pro-immigration leadership. Anti-illegal immigrant bashers in the audience mutter about "parasites," their eyes burning with the passion of having a target to unreservedly hate.
It's my turn at the mic. I suggest the biggest challenges facing the next president will be global warming and sustainability. We need to make economic growth mean ecological improvement, not ecological destruction.
Ending taxes on income and instead taxing all goods and services based on their level of pollution, depletion, and ecological damage is key, I tell the Senator.
McCain's concerned about global warming.
"We don't know where the tipping point is," he says.
Meanwhile, as we spiral toward ecological catastrophe and the Bush administration continues to delay, stonewall, and politically back fill, McCain is ready to standup for ecological survival. He declares, "Climate change is real. It's here. It's dangerous. And it's worse than we thought ... It's terrible that we haven't taken more action to prevent it."
I don't share McCain's embrace of nuclear power as part of the solution. The Bush Administration, for example, wants to build nuclear reactors in India while bombing them in Iran. Nevertheless, McCain appears quite willing to craft innovative solutions to major questions whether immigration or global warming.
A consumption tax system would be based on a smart sales tax, an ecological value added tax or VAT [value added tax], on all goods and services in the economy, currently worth about $10 trillion a year. Ecological VAT rates would vary. The more polluting, depleting, or ecologically damaging a good or service, the higher the tax.
What's sustainable will be cheaper, what's more polluting will be more costly. The market, not regulation will lead the way toward sustainability.
The market price will reflect true costs. A 25 percent VAT would raise about $2.5 trillion a year for the federal budget. The VAT could be phased in over ten years, replacing income based taxes dollar for dollar.
And since consumption taxes are regressive, the poor spend all their income while the rich don't, the ecological VAT system need be accompanied by a negative income tax (NIT). The NIT, proposed by Richard Nixon, would end welfare and poverty by lifting the poorest above the poverty line, and the working poor toward a liveable wage.
The market and democracy, what we know best and what we do best, is the road to sustainability. After Katrina when gasoline prices soared 50 percent, the sales of the gas guzzling Ford Explorer SUV, declined 50 percent in the following quarter.
Remember, since World War II global carbon dioxide emissions have declined only in the years 1974, and 1980-1983 following OPEC oil embargoes that sent prices soaring.
In April, it's nice to sense that not only can we be free from income tax hell, but find deliverance as part of a basic reform that will lead the way toward ecological sustainability and prosperity.
Certainly it remains to be seen if McCain will take my advise on phasing out income taxes and instituting an ecological consumption tax. But he's willing to listen and willing to take action.
Maybe a presidential candidate's political instincts will converge with our nation's long term interests in 2008. That's what democracy and the New Hampshire primary is all about.

Roy Morrison is a writer and energy consultant. His latest book, "Eco Civilization 2140," is available on and local bookstores everywhere.

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