Australian Carbon Tax

Australians burn a lot of carbon. Per person, they’re right up there with Americans:

The map here is based on data from 2000. In 2008, Australians spewed out 18.9 tonnes of CO2 per person in the process of burning fossil fuels and making cement. Americans spewed 17.5 tonnes per person. The world average was just 4.4.

Australians also mine a lot of coal. It’s their biggest export! On top of that, coal exports have more than doubled in recent years:

Last Sunday, however, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a tax on carbon!

In this scheme, the 500 biggest polluters in Australia will be taxed at AU $23 per tonne of carbon emissions starting in July 2012. The price will increase 2.5% each year until 2015, and then a carbon trading scheme will be introduced. The hope is that by 2020, Australian carbon emissions will drop 5% below 2000 levels.

Of course, the further we go into the future, the less sure we can be of anything. What if Gillard’s party gets voted out of power? There’s already considerable dissatisfaction with Gillard’s plan, in part because she had earlier said:

There will be no carbon tax under the Government I lead.

but mainly, of course, because taxes are unpopular and the coal lobby is very strong in Australia. There’s been a lot of talk about how the carbon tax will hurt the economy.

These objections are to be expected, and thus not terribly interesting (even if they’re valid). However, some more interesting objections are posed here:

• Annabel Crab, Australia’s diabolical carbon pricing scheme, ABC News, 13 July 2010.

First, it seems that Prime Minister Gillard favors continuing to sell lots of coal to other countries. As she recently said:

Tony Abbott was predicting Armageddon for the coal mining industry But the future of coal mining in Australia is bright.

But coal mining can’t really have a ‘bright future’ in a decarbonized world unless we capture and store the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning plants.

Second, in the planned carbon trading scheme beginning in 2015, Australian companies will be allowed to account for half of their emissions reductions by simply buying permits from overseas. I’m not sure this is bad: it could simply be efficient. However, Annabel Crab points out that it has some seemingly paradoxical effects. She quotes a Treasury document saying:

In a world where other countries pursue more ambitious abatement targets, the carbon price will be higher, and this increases the cost in terms of domestic production and income foregone.

Is this really bad? I’m not sure. I hope however that the Australian carbon tax goes forward to the point where we can see its effects instead of merely speculate about them.

46 Responses to Australian Carbon Tax

  1. Tim van Beek says:

    Well there has been a carbon tax in Germany for quite some time now, so if you are interested in the effects there should be plenty of data to study (but I don’t know anything interesting). To be more precise, it is called energy tax, but you pay it for everything that you need to burn. If you generate electricity without burning anything, you’ll have to pay a different tax :-)

    • John Baez says:

      For this German tax, can we estimate the amount per tonne of carbon? If you can tell me the tax in euros per kilowatt-hour, or euros per liter of petrol, or something, I can do the math.

      I’m curious to see if it’s approximately $25 per tonne of carbon, like the Australian tax, or much smaller (or larger!).

      • Tim van Beek says:

        If you scroll down to this paragraph on the German version of Wikipedia, there are prices both per kilogram and per kWh.

        ct = cent = 0.01 Euro.

        “Benzin” (gas) is 65,45 ct/l (cent per litre), but I don’t know the density.

        “Erdgas” (natural gasoline?) is 18,03 ct/kg, which is 180 Euros per tonne.

        P.S. I always use http://www.leo.org for English/German translations.

        • John Baez says:

          Let’s see. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, one gallon of gasoline produces about 8.8 kilograms of CO2. That means one liter produces about 8.8 / 3.79 = 2.32 kilograms of CO2. And that means one liter contains about 2.32 / 3.666 = 0.63 kilograms of carbon.

          So, if there’s a tax of 65.45 European cents per liter, that’s 65.45 / 0.63 = 1.03 euros per kilogram of carbon. That’s roughly 1000 euros per tonne. This is enormously larger than than the Australian carbon tax of 23 Australian dollars per tonne, which about 17.4 euros per tonne!

          Am I making a mistake? I’m pretty tired…

        • Tim van Beek says:

          I haven’t paid much attention to the Australian carbon tax, but the energy tax in Germany is enormously large – meaning that on average you pay more money in taxes than you pay the oil companies – at least I think so.

          Is the Australian carbon tax the only tax that consumers of oil will pay for that oil?

        • John Baez says:

          They probably also have a gasoline tax.

        • Greg Egan says:

          There are existing taxes on fuel, mostly set at A$0.38 per litre. But (from this page):

          Households, on-road business use of light vehicles and the agriculture, forestry and fishery industries will not face a carbon price on the fuel they use for transport.

          So probably the biggest effect on most people will be a higher cost for electricity. But we’re also being given income tax cuts from the same starting date that in most cases will approximately cancel out the extra cost of living, with the logic apparently being that it was politically necessary to make the whole thing almost painless, but people might still be motivated to reduce their electricity consumption.

        • Victor Eijkhout says:

          “Erdgas” is “natural gas”, which is actually a gas, as opposed to the US word “gas” which is a liquid.

        • John Baez says:

          Greg wrote:

          There are existing taxes on fuel, mostly set at A$0.38 per litre.

          Thanks… and thanks for showing me the correct way to notate an Australian dollar!

          Let’s compare that to the German tax.

          According to Tim, the Germans pay a tax of 65 eurocents per liter of gasoline, which works out to about 1000 euros per ton of carbon burnt.

          Right now an Australian dollar is about 0.76 euros. We saw that a liter of gas contains 0.63 kilograms of carbon (and by the way, 99% of that gets burnt).

          So, if my math is right, the Australians are paying a tax of 29 eurocents per liter of gasoline, which means 460 euros per ton of carbon burnt.

          The interesting thing is that this is probably both caused by the Australians greater fondness for using lots of gasoline, but also causes it.

          In the United States, gasoline taxes vary widely. California is near the top at $0.69 per gallon when you include both federal and state tax. Texas is nearer the bottom at $0.44/gallon. Alaska is at the very bottom: $0.24/gallon.

          Let’s translate these into European units. A gallon is 3.785 liters and right now a dollar is 0.71 euros, so a dollar per gallon is just 19 eurocents per liter. (For some reason that makes it sound less to me.)

          So, Californians pay a tax of just 13 eurocents per liter of gasoline, or 200 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          Alaskans pay a tax of only 4.4 eurocents per liter of gasoline, or 70 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          So, the German gasoline tax is 14 times that paid by Alaskans. Of course, the Alaskans have more reasons to want the Earth to warm up.

        • The high German gasoline prices are perhaps one reason why German car manufacturers survived the financial crisis more easily, for they tend to produce more efficient cars.

          But then, many a German car easily speeds up to 200km/h (a standard Porsche does 290km/h), which is ridiculous overengineering. Germany is one of the last nations without a general speed limit on its autobahns. (And the car lobby is firmly entrenched in German government – we’ll never get a sane speed limit.)

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          John wrote:

          or 81 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          Alaskans pay […] 28 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          So, the German gasoline tax is 36 times that paid by Alaskans.

          are you sure about these three numbers?

        • John Baez says:

          Frederik wrote:

          are you sure about these three numbers?

          Good catch! No, I screwed up: I multiplied by 0.63 where I should have divided by 0.63. I believe I should have written:

          So, Californians pay a tax of just 13 eurocents per liter of gasoline, or 200 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          Alaskans pay a tax of only 4.4 eurocents per liter of gasoline, or 70 euros per tonne of carbon burnt.

          So, the German gasoline tax is 14 times that paid by Alaskans.

          I’ve gone back and changed the numbers in my original comment, to reduce the amount of misinformation floating around the world.

  2. Rodney Topor (Australia) says:

    That’s a good analysis. Let’s just hope the government survives to implement the proposed carbon tax.

    • Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

      Let’s hope it doesn’t, since then Julia Gillard won’t have to break her word (but what is a politician’s word worth?)
      1. Taxing carbon emissions won’t stop them or even reduce them much, it will just push the cost of living up.
      2. Comparing per capita consumption is meaningless if the populations are not comparable – Australia’s carbon emissions are less than 1/10 of those of China or the US (ranking 80 and 12 respectively on the per-capita table), and less than 1/4 of Russia or India (23 and 145 respectively). Per capita ranking is only used because it makes the worst offenders look good – the Falkland Islands look worse than Australia on a per capita basis. Naughty. Slap a huge tax on them.

      • John Baez says:

        Peter wrote:

        Taxing carbon emissions won’t stop them or even reduce them much, it will just push the cost of living up.

        Evidence, please? These things are easy to say; what matters is the data. You could compare countries with a high tax on carbon, or fossil fuels, with countries with lower taxes, and measuring the elasticity of demand: that is, how much a 1% tax on some form of carbon burning reduces that activity. Someone must have done this analysis already; maybe you can find it on the web.

        Per capita ranking is only used because it makes the worst offenders look good.

        No, it’s used because if you have two countries with people who do the exact same things, and one is twice as big as the other, the bigger one will emit twice as much carbon, but they don’t deserve to be taxed more per person: other things being equal, they deserve to be taxed the same amount. In other words: there is no clear reason to tax someone more because they live in a big country.

        • Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

          “Other things being equal”… there’s the catch. They aren’t. My point is that China emits nearly 16 times as much carbon as Australia, and the U.S. about 13 times as much. How much are they taxed? If Australia is taxed and if it reduces carbon emissions there, it’s going to make very little difference to the global scene even if other countries (e.g., China, U.S.A., Russia, India) reduce their emissions dramatically as well.

          Many Australians are angry because they see this as a broken election pledge by a Prime Minister who is making a token gesture to the Green lobby, and that we are being treated as scapegoats while 37% or more of global emissions comes from countries that are not making a commensurate effort.

          There are too many variables to put a cash value on carbon emissions.

        • John Baez says:

          “Other things being equal”… there’s the catch. They aren’t. My point is that China emits nearly 16 times as much carbon as Australia, and the U.S. about 13 times as much.

          That’s mainly because these countries have more people, which is precisely what I’m saying is not a good reason for their citizens to pay more tax per tonne of carbon.

          I agree that it’s more important to institute a carbon tax in large countries than in smaller ones. However, the solution is not to become angry at leaders of smaller countries who do impose a carbon tax. Being virtuous before the last sinner reforms is always a bit painful. However, nothing will improve if everyone else waits for everyone else to take the first step. The US is waiting for China to do something, and China is waiting for the US. It’s a classic Tragedy of the Commons. I applaud any government who seeks to break the deadlock. The more governments do this, the more pressure will build on the worst offenders.

  3. Bruce Smith says:

    To put the proposed tax in perspective, it should be compared with the implicit “subsidy” of the right to emit carbon for free, given that that right (in some of our opinions) has a large negative net present value to future users of the climate, due to its likely effects on climate.

    Of course it’s hard to estimate that net present value (even if the basic assumptions are taken for granted), but surely someone has tried. (Probably more than once, and unfortunately with widely varying results.)

    In general, if the cost of externalities due to various forms of pollution and other non-sustainable activity could be reasonably estimated, then all current situations in which pollution or resource extraction is not taxed could be described as implicit subsidies of some amount, and the proposed taxes or other mitigation efforts compared to those amounts, as part of discussing whether they’re reasonable as “partial corrections”. (For example, it could also be applied to the loss of productive soil due to runoff from farmland.)

    • John Baez says:

      I agree!

      By the way, this is apparently called the Pigouvian approach to dealing with negative externalities: impose a tax. One alternative approach is the Coasean approach, which is roughly to let people bargain among themselves to deal with negative externalities.

      Back when we talked about carbon trading in California, a fellow named srp wrote:

      I notice that no one has taken up the earlier point I made due to Coase: The mere existence of an unpriced negative spillover effect from one individual to others does not imply that economic efficiency calls for regulating or discouraging the spillover. Those affected by the spillover could equally well make adjustments to their activities (adaptation) and these adjustments might maximize total welfare.

      I bring this Coasean point up not because economic efficiency is the only value but because John keeps citing the (Pigouvian) externality argument as ironclad proof that CO2 emissions are currently underpriced. But the simple Pigouvian argument is wrong, or at least badly incomplete. Worse, the non-economic-efficiency impacts of Pigouvian regulatory policy can be severe, especially in terms of giving political and bureaucratic leaders power to control and regulate the everyday lives of putatively free citizens, increasing rent-seeking and crony capitalist tendencies in the economy, etc. No classical liberal could be sanguine about such a regime.

      On the other hand, Coase’s theorem also involves simplifying assumptions, so I’m not very sanguine about the Coasean approach. It might be nice to have a discussion about this.

    • Nathan Urban says:

      Bruce wrote:

      Of course it’s hard to estimate that net present value (even if the basic assumptions are taken for granted), but surely someone has tried.

      The relevant keyword is “social cost of carbon” (SCC). The Economics e-journal has a recent special issue devoted to it.

      The U.S. government adopted official values for the SCC last year for use in regulatory cost-benefit-analysis, based on economic integrated assessment models (IAMs). The values range from $5 to $65 per ton of CO2 (2010 value in 2007 dollars), depending on discounting assumptions. Of course, if you read the report, you will find many caveats.

      If you look at Table 3 on page 26, you’ll find a lower bound (5th percentile) on the SCC as low as -$3/tCO2, i.e. a net benefit. This arises from the FUND model with a lower emissions scenario (550 ppm average) and a high discount rate (5%).

      The highest upper bound (95th percentile) in the table arises from the PAGE model with a higher emissions scenario (“IMAGE”, described in Table 2 on page 16, which has 2100 emissions that are triple 2010 emissions). Its value is $142/tCO2.

  4. John Baez says:

    I’ve added some of the information here to:

    Carbon pricing, Azimuth Library.

    If anyone has more facts they want to add to that page, please do!

  5. Phil Henshaw says:

    Two correctable flaws: 1) a tax on CO2 is a wide open invitation to cheating unless it’s global and uniform and 2) it’s not the supply of fossil energy that causes CO2 pollution, but the demand. The method awarded the ASME best paper of the year award for Energy Sustainability applies. http://www.synapse9.com/signals/2011/07/11/henshaw-king-paper-awarded-prize/

  6. Look, the loss of permanent earth assets such as low-lying land and biodiversity is not taken into account in these economic assessments. How can a value of $65/t include the permanent loss of the Nile delta, Bangladesh, coastal China or any of the other food producing delta areas of the planet? How can it include the loss of 30% of the worlds species? Even 45 times that value would not be enough.

    It seems to me that this approach relies on the assumption that resources are infinite and forgets we have a finite planet on which to live.

  7. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    “Promising no Australian will pay more tax as a result of the long-anticipated carbon plan she unveiled yesterday, Ms Gillard said nine out of 10 households would benefit from personal income tax cuts or increased pensions and payments.” (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/national/national/general/15b-carbon-tax-handout/2222087.aspx) A tax no-one pays? How does that work?

    “Average household costs will rise by around $9.90 a week, while the compensation works out at $10.10.” (ibid)

    I went to the Government’s Estimator site; I will get $3.00 a year compensation. I will pay quite a large tax. I have installed solar electric panels on my roof, I have energy-efficient devices where possible, and I’m getting taxed while those who haven’t bothered will be compensated. This tax is a knee-jerk reaction that hasn’t been properly thought out, and I can’t see that it will help the global carbon emissions either.

    • John Baez says:

      Peter wrote:

      I will pay quite a large tax.

      Could you say more about that? How will the carbon tax for you be computed, and approximately what will it add up to?

    • sinesurfers says:

      The tax that no one pays works by making carbon-intensive products more expensive and competing greener products less so. Consumers have the option of taking the more expensive product, or the relatively less expensive product and saving the extra money they get paid out by the tax.

      It’s not meant to be a revenue gathering exercise…

  8. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    The Government’s estimator engine asks three questions:
    Do you have a partner?
    Are you/your partner of pensionable age?
    A question asking how the incomes are divided between the partners: one earner only, equal earnings, unequal earnings? (we are a single income family.)
    Estimated impact:
    Average price impact: $487 per year
    Total Government assistance: $3.00 per year.

    • John Baez says:

      Is this an “average” price impact, or the actual impact on you no matter what you do?

      I’m hoping it’s the former, as the website suggests. After all, a carbon tax that depends only on the information you listed (marriage status, age, how incomes are divided) would not really be a carbon tax. A carbon tax should depend on how much carbon you burn, either directly or indirectly through consumption of products and services.

      If the tax depends on how much carbon people burn, and it’s painfully high, they will be motivated to burn less. If the tax doesn’t depend on how much carbon they burn, they won’t be motivated to burn less: only complain more.

      • John Baez says:

        Peter writes:

        For example, the estimator uses average consumption patterns for different household types in determining price impacts. Your price impact may vary from the estimate because the level and mix of goods and services that your household consumes is different to that consumed by the scenario household.

        Okay, good: the carbon tax depends on how much carbon you burn. I hope that’s all it will depend on, not your age, income, and other irrelevant factors.

      • John Baez says:

        Just as an order-of-magnitude check:

        On average, Australians emitted 18.9 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2007. Dividing by the magic number 3.666…, that corresponds to 5.15 tonnes of carbon burnt per capita. The new tax is supposed to start at A$23 per tonne of carbon. So, on average, the new tax should cost Australians A$113 per capita, not counting the assistance and loopholes the government has thrown in to sweeten the deal.

        However, Peter said that some website estimated his tax at A$487 per year, based on three factors:

        Do you have a partner?
        Are you/your partner of pensionable age?
        A question asking how the incomes are divided between the partners: one earner only, equal earnings, unequal earnings? (we are a single income family.)

        And not a question about income!? That would be bizarre.

        Well, when I actually go look at the estimator, I see that income is also taken into account. Using the estimator, I tried guess Peter’s income based on what it would take to yield a tax of A$487 per year and A$3 of government assistance. The estimator does some very strange things, which made this task difficult rather than fun. But, I get the impression that his income must be over A$60,000 per year. If so, the tax is less than 1% a year, which ain’t much.

        More to the point, the median household income in Australia is about A$45,000. Typing that into the estimator for a married couple with no kids where one person earns considerably more than the other but both work, the estimator spits out an estimate of A$390 in tax per year, compensated in large part by A$303 in government assistance. It’s hard to see this as unduly punitive.

        • Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

          Yes, sorry, the estimator does ask for level of income – my mistake.
          However, the assumption is that income is a measure or carbon burned. How does dividing it between two partners change that? How does my age change that? The Government will “compensate” based on factors like that, so effectively the tax will depend on those factors.
          A fair tax, applied globally to deal with a global problem, would be acceptable. An unfair tax, calculated on the basis of statistical averages, could lead to the response:
          “If I’m paying for burning carbon, whether I am or not, then I may as well burn it and get my money’s worth.” That wouldn’t help anyone.

  9. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    Some more information on that:
    From the Estimator:
    “How the estimator uses your information

    The Estimator uses your information to determine which of the 43 predetermined household scenarios underlying the Estimator most closely matches your situation.

    Please see the pre-determined household scenarios for more information.

    Because the Estimator identifies the closest match, rather than an exact match, your price impact and/or the assistance available to your household is likely to differ from the estimates you will see on the next page.

    For example, the estimator uses average consumption patterns for different household types in determining price impacts. Your price impact may vary from the estimate because the level and mix of goods and services that your household consumes is different to that consumed by the scenario household.

    The Estimator uses your income information to make assumptions about the Government payments you receive, such as Family Tax Benefit, Newstart Allowance, Age Pension or Parenting Payment.

    If the Estimator has made the wrong assumption, for example because you do not meet an assets test or activity testing requirements, or if you receive a different payment, such as the Disability Support Pension, the assistance that may be available to you is likely to differ from the estimates you will see on the next page.

    The Estimator provides an indication of the price impact and household assistance that will be available from May-June 2012. If your current circumstances change, the price impact and assistance available to you may differ from the estimates you will see. ”

    I recalculated for an hypothetical scenario. If my wife and I were a couple of years younger, and we each earned half of the (same total) family income, we would end up being about $80 better off after an estimated impact of $529 compensation of $606. But we are older and my wife can’t work, so we are penalised. Fair? You tell me.

  10. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    Okay, good: the carbon tax depends on how much carbon you burn. Ideally that’s all it will depend on, not your age and the like.

    Ideally, yes. But in fact it does depend on our ages, and not on how much carbon we burn.

    • John Baez says:

      Really? This website says:

      The Estimator is a guide to help you understand the impact that a carbon price is expected to have on prices of goods and services and the cash assistance that is being provided for Australian households. The first assistance payments will commence from May-June 2012.

      The Estimator will guide you through a process to identify the average price impacts and cash assistance for a predetermined household type that most closely matches your situation, based on the information you provide. The results of the Estimator are indicative only, and the Estimator will not produce a calculation based on your exact circumstances.

      This suggests that the Estimator estimates the average tax Australians “like you” will pay based on various factors including your age—but so far I’ve see no evidence that the tax you will pay will be computed in a way that depends on your age.

      It sounds like the carbon tax depends on the goods and services you buy. If so, it depends on how much carbon burning you’re responsible for. If you want to lessen your tax, you can.

      The “household assistance” is the part where factors other than your carbon footprint enter, it seems to me.

      • Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

        Sorry, my replies have got a bit mixed up because I’ve just clicked on ‘reply’ at the bottom of the e-mail I got. Sorry I’ve confused the threads.

  11. Greg Egan says:

    The carbon tax per se will be paid in the first instance by a number of businesses with large CO2 emissions; it’s been estimated that roughly 500 organisations will pay the tax.

    These businesses will pass on some of this cost to consumers. There is expected to be a small increase in prices in general of about 0.7 percent in 2012/13, as the effects of the tax on electricity and transport costs are passed on, but the greatest increase to individuals will probably be a roughly 10 percent rise in domestic electricity and natural gas charges in 2012/13.

    The compensation for the tax consists largely of income tax cuts. There will also be direct payments to aged pensioners, some self-funded retirees, and people receiving disability pensions.

    The income tax cuts are determined by income, with the lowest income earners receiving the largest cuts (A$503 per annum for someone on A$25,000, A$303 p.a. for someone on A$30,000 to A$65,000).

    I wouldn’t take the estimator page seriously for anything but calculations of income tax cuts. It really has no way of knowing precisely what any individual will be paying in terms of increased prices.

    But one thing is obvious: people who use less electricity (or natural gas) will benefit compared to people who use more, since the 10 percent increase in the tariffs for those utilities will be the main route by which the carbon tax impacts individuals.

    (You might think the amount of fuel people use in their cars would be important, but that’s exempt from the tax so the price will be unaffected.)

  12. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    “I wouldn’t take the estimator page seriously for anything but calculations of income tax cuts. It really has no way of knowing precisely what any individual will be paying in terms of increased prices. ”
    Exactly. While the tax, in principle, is paid by the highest users, in practice the ‘compensatory’ income tax cuts, and the way they are calculated, mean that this is not the case.

  13. Greg Egan says:

    Exactly. While the tax, in principle, is paid by the highest users, in practice the ‘compensatory’ income tax cuts, and the way they are calculated, mean that this is not the case.

    So now your complaint boils down to the fact that people on lower incomes are getting income tax cuts, and you see this as some kind of distortion of the carbon tax itself?

    The fact remains that everyone will be paying about 10% more for electricity and natural gas, and will be motivated to respond to that price change. That this has been done in a way that won’t leave the lowest income earners with a net disadvantage does not remove the price signal for anyone.

  14. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    Greg, haven’t you been paying attention?
    The compensation means that a couple a few years younger than us, and with the _same_ total income, will, in effect, NOT be paying more for electricity and natural gas, and won’t be motivated to respond.
    Miss Gillard is on record as “Promising no Australian will pay more tax as a result of the long-anticipated carbon plan she unveiled yesterday” If no Australian will pay more tax (directly or indirectly) then it fails in its purpose.. But the statement is a lie in any case, and hopefully will be punished at the next election.
    I came across this blog by accident, and will now bid it goodbye. I am tired of people in countries that emit hugely greater amounts of carbon telling us what a great thing we have in our carbon tax, when whatever effect it has it will only be a pinprick in global terms. And I would mind less if the tax were to be used to invest in technologies such as thorium nuclear power plants or other non-fossil fuel technologies. But it won’t be; it will be absorbed into the Government’s general revenue.

  15. Greg Egan says:

    The compensation means that a couple a few years younger than us, and with the _same_ total income, will, in effect, NOT be paying more for electricity and natural gas, and won’t be motivated to respond.

    Actually, the effect of being older is to increase compensation. A single person with an income of $50,000 p.a. has compensation jump from $303 to $718 if they are of pensionable age, since they receive both tax cuts and direct compensation.

    It’s true that the total income tax cut increases if that $50,000 is earned as $25,000 each by both members of a couple, rather than by just one person; it becomes $1,046, or $523 each. But the income tax system has never treated one high income earner with a non-working spouse completely identically to two low-income earners whose total household income is the same.

    The compensation for low income earners is generally enough to slightly overcompensate people with average power consumption, but that’s not the same thing at all as making low income earners exempt from the pricing effects of the carbon tax — which is what it would actually take to remove any motivation to respond. A low income earner who was profligate with electricity could end up with a greater increase in their power bill than their income tax cut, which would certainly motivate them to cut their consumption. But even people with average power consumption, whose after-tax income ends up rising more than their power bill, would benefit if they reduced their consumption.

    And I would mind less if the tax were to be used to invest in technologies such as thorium nuclear power plants or other non-fossil fuel technologies.

    No nuclear, but from this page:

    A new $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation will invest in the commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technologies. A new Australian Renewable Energy Agency will streamline and coordinate the administration of $3.2 billion in existing support for renewable energy. And the $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program will provide further support for businesses to support research and development (R&D) in renewable energy and other low-pollution measures.

  16. Peter de Lacey (Australia) says:

    Ok, one last fling.
    “Actually, the effect of being older is to increase compensation. .”
    NOT TRUE. I and my wife will receive less compensation than a couple a few years younger would do. I don’t know why.
    Americans, get your own back yard in order before pontificating about Australia, please.

    • John Baez says:

      Greg lives in Australia. I live in Singapore now, but will return to California in a year. I don’t think either of us are “pontificating”. If you want, I can pontificate a bit: you’ll instantly notice the difference.

      I very much want the United States to adopt a carbon tax, or at least a cap-and-trade system like California already has. Right now this seems unlikely: indeed, it seems more likely that the whole country will go into default next week. But I believe that eventually the US will adopt a price on carbon… so it’s very important for Americans to learn more about what similar measures other countries are taking.

      As Greg pointed out, the main way the tax will hit Australian citizens is through a roughly 10 percent increase in domestic gas and electricity rates. Since you’ve installed solar electric panels on my roof, and energy-efficient devices where possible, the tax should hit you considerably less than others. That dodgy “Estimator” doesn’t take this into account.

      You and Greg disagree on whether older people will receive less compensation. So far I lean towards believing Greg, because he’s providing references and has a long track record of being right about things, while you seem to be treating this “Estimator” as an actual calculation of your tax, which isn’t true. But that’s just my guess so far. I’d be interested to hear more details of how this tax will work from any experts lurking out there!

  17. Greg Egan says:

    NOT TRUE. I and my wife will receive less compensation than a couple a few years younger would do. I don’t know why.

    The reason you “don’t know why” is because it’s not the case. Aged pensioners and some self-funded retirees will get extra compensation by virtue of that status; there is no other age dependence. I don’t know if there’s a bug in the estimator, but if you look at the actual changes to income tax scales and to pensions, there is no possibility of anyone getting less compensation solely because they’re older.

    Americans, get your own back yard in order before pontificating about Australia, please.

    As it happens I’m Australian myself, but that’s beside the point. I think there are plenty of things that could be improved in this scheme, but I think you’re overstating the pitfalls of compensating low income earners. That people on low incomes with average power use have ended up no worse off does not shield them from the now-10%-greater cost if they increase their power use, nor render them oblivious to the now-10%-greater benefits if they can find ways to decrease their use.

    That households who earn the same total income as you do through two people working, rather than just one, will benefit more from the income tax changes might be unfair, but it’s hardly going to undermine the whole scheme.

    I have installed solar electric panels on my roof, I have energy-efficient devices where possible, and I’m getting taxed while those who haven’t bothered will be compensated.

    Actually you’re paying a lower electricity bill because of these choices, so the 10% increase passed on by the utilities will have less impact on you than it will on people who didn’t take these measures. The estimator page is too simplistic to ask questions about this kind of thing and take it into account, but presumably you have some idea yourself about the difference this has made in your use of electricity from the grid.

  18. Robert Smart says:

    A good guide to what the Australian tax and other measures will achieve is what the voters might want it to achieve. Human cooperation is driven by our dislike of non-cooperators and our fear of being perceived as a non-cooperator. True to form, Australians are not so much interested in being good guys, as in not being seen as bad guys. We really hate being one of the world’s worst per-capita emitters. This feeling also applies to people who don’t themselves believe in AGW. If we believe that others believe it, then we are nervous about the fact that they think we are bad guys. So, in so far as the tax addresses AGW, it is intended as a statement to the world “Look we’re doing our best”. However “seeming to do something” seems to be only a part of the aim. The left wing government has grabbed at the opportunity to tax the rich and give to the poor. They’re gambling that voters will overcome their dislike of any new tax, and perceive some benefit. We’ll see.

    To overcome the energy crisis and/or reduce CO2 emissions we need to change infrastructure. It can’t be done painlessly, as this tax claims to do. The trick is to soak up liquidity by issuing “Energy Crisis” bonds which will turn back into money as the crisis is overcome. We can’t know if we will come out of the crisis richer or poorer. But in fact people don’t care much about that. People care mostly about relative wealth. So the bonds should be guaranteed to preserve their value as a fraction of GDP (or similar). Note that we soak up liquidity so that we can reduce consumer spending and increase spending on the required new infrastructure without changing total employment.

  19. Robert Smart says:

    I glance at the Murdoch papers’ opinion pieces a bit to see where he wants to push the country (and the world) [though hopefully his power is now reduced]. Well anyway, this discusses dubious aspects of Treasury modelling:
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/commentary/swan-hides-his-dodgy-carbon-model/story-e6frgd0x-1226103759625 . As I say, people may not care if it will work, and in situations like that we see the important but unremarked occurrence of governments telling lies FOR the people instead of TO the people.

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