And so I was quite pleased to see the Wall Street Journal today devote an entire editorial to saying that we'd gone crazy. Not least because it gives me the chance to retort in kind.
Background: our beloved leader is trying to set up a "cap and trade"-type scheme to limit carbon emissions. There is a great deal of debate as to what targets should be set for reducing emissions, but almost none as to the desirability of the goal in itself. New Zealand simply doesn't have a noticeable community of global warming doubters. From where we sit, human damage to the world environment is all too obvious.
But the WSJ thinks differently. That journal belongs firmly in the camp of those who hold that global warming is some kind of hoax designed by the global Marxist conspiracy to reduce the rightful profits of rich people. I had heard that the Journal had escaped lightly from the Murdochisation process, but having sampled its writing, I no longer believe it.
Now, I'll admit there are problems with the global warming theory. And I'll be the first to agree that a great deal of alarmist claptrap has been spouted about it - much of it by Mr Murdoch and his cohorts, in their unending quest to sell the indefensible. (The Day After Tomorrow, let it be noted for the record, was a 20th Century Fox production.)
But it's a long, long way from those two concessions to the conclusion that "there's nothing to worry about". I did the maths on this myself back in the early 90s, and I worked out then that if we dug all the known coal reserves out of the ground and burnt them, we would approximately triple the atmospheric concentration of CO2. You can't tell me that the environment could simply mop up that much change without dramatic effects.
Compare the WSJ's language:
Their report, issued last week, doesn't question disputed United Nations climate-change assumptions, nor explain the cost to the average Kiwi of taxing every corner of the economy — especially agriculture, the country's biggest export. The authors brush aside the fact that New Zealand only emits 0.2% of global emissions, calling it "small," but "not insignificant." Thus Wellington should "act now" to reduce emissions "to protect our international reputation, particularly in the areas of trade and tourism."
The best advertisement for New Zealand isn't to support ideas that make the country poorer. Instead, Mr. Key's government would do better by focusing on encouraging strong economic growth to support a vibrant, entrepreneurial society. That way, tourists may want to come to New Zealand and stay.
I should damn' well hope that a NZ Parliamentary committee wouldn't spend its time "questioning" United Nations climate-change assumptions. They don't have the expertise, the resources or the time for such a masturbatory exercise. The only reason I can imagine for doing so is to make sure your inquiry comes to an answer that you'd already decided on before you began.
Then the Journal goes on to tell John Key his job. Now, while I might privately believe that Key needs a great deal of help in that department, I can't help but wonder about the author's motives here. "Tourists may want to come to New Zealand and stay" - actually, that happens quite a lot already, and I have to tell you there's no great clamour among most Kiwis for higher immigration. (Personally I'd welcome it, but I'd be in a minority.) I get the feeling that the author has his (or, possibly but improbably, her) eye on New Zealand as a place to retire to, and wants it to be a tax haven.
As for "vibrant, entrepreneurial society".... whatever makes you imagine we'd want one of those? What do you think we are, Australia or something?
But the real 350kg gorilla in this argument is the curious assumption that a carbon tax will, axiomatically, be bad for the economy.
Now, I understand the basic libertarian argument that all taxes are bad for the economy, because they distort the free market. As an argument it may be dumber than a sack of bricks, but at least it's coherent. What I don't see is any prima facie reason to believe that a carbon tax is any worse for "the economy" than, say, a road tax, or compulsory employee health insurance, or a sales tax. What it does, like all taxes, is to favour certain types of economic activity at the expense of others.
But a carbon tax, in particular - what that does is to encourage efficiency. Doing more with less. The WSJ is not backward in criticising China and India for subsidising fuel, because they "thwart prudent energy consumption".
But then, of course, those subsidies are aimed chiefly at the poor...
Businesses, the WSJ assumes, need no incentives to restrain their energy consumption. It's not as if they'd ever treat externalities as "free". Surely it's sheer paranoid Trotskyite fantasy to suggest that businesses, left to their own devices, would wilfully or wantonly poison our air and our beaches, slaughter wildlife and destroy whole environments?
I'm delighted that our government is exposing our industry to harsh competitive conditions. Just as we have some of the most liberal agricultural trade policies in the world, and those haven't - contrary to many predictions - either destroyed our farmers, or forced them to go to wholesale industrial production such as used in countries like, ooh, America... so I look forward to our industry becoming leaner, fitter and stronger by having to pay the true costs of its activities.