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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