A Cross-Post on Green Identity and Republican Willingness to Enact a Carbon Tax

Here it is.   I hope that the broad topic of the causes and consequences of “green identity”  nudges political scientists, sociologists and economists to work together.  I have not been able to make progress on why our identity evolves over time.   If Dick Cheney was forced to move to Berkeley would his world view evolve?

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

10 thoughts on “A Cross-Post on Green Identity and Republican Willingness to Enact a Carbon Tax”

  1. In answer to your question, no. But his head would implode, showing once and for all that there is a partial vacuum where his brain should be. Anyway, 10 years ago most Republicans “believed in” anthropogenic climate change. What happened?

  2. Well, John Woo moved to Berkeley, and no apparent change of views has been observed. The Berkeleyside blog: “John Yoo, the embattled Bush administration official who authored the memos sanctioning torture, compares his residency in Berkeley as akin to living in West Berlin during the height of the Cold War.

    In a interview with the Los Angeles Times, Yoo, who teaches at the Boalt School of Law, said “I think of myself as being West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism.””

    1. “I think of myself as being West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism.””

      Wow. Where to begin? I mean, after stating we should ensure no Repub presidents are elected until all these odious people die of old age or loneliness…

    2. Did he ever go there? West Berlin was kept afloat and prosperous by massive subsidies. And since it didn’t have the draft and rents were cheap, it became a huge refuge for lefties and hippies, Germany’s Haight-ashbury.

  3. It is an interesting question, and yet another reason, I think, why we need a meso-economics, but that’s another topic.

    Humans are social creatures. Atomistic individualism, which has traditionally guided economics (and a part of sociology) is not always a good guide to reality. People become part of social organizations — formal ones and loose, emergent ones, and act in concert with those organizations. They identify as “members” of such organizations, playing their roles. Politics is how societies think.

    Economics could bring a lot to bear, in relating identity to self-interest, anchored in committments, sunk-cost investments, and economic rents, to complement the insights of social psychologists and anthropologists, about culture and attitudes. There’s more at work than culture wars, expressed in jokes about Prius-ownership promoting Smug in place of Smog.

    A lot of the anger evident in opposition to “green” relates to whole ways of life, anchored on “cheap gas”. It is the ex-urbs and far suburbs, who feel most threatened by a high price of gas. Economists should not have any difficulty understanding how a high gas price affects economic rents, and therefore the felt stability in that way of life. If all your ambitions have been focused on driving to a better job, a better house, a better neighborhood, better schools for your kids, cheaper stuff at Wal-Mart and CostCo, “green” is a threat to your sense of power in your shaping your own life. It can provoke deep feelings of shame and helplessness. Not to mention, falling home prices, foreclosures, declining schools, etc. Proposals for denser development, rail systems, etc., can feel like a contest in which government is withdrawing support for an ex-urb life, and giving support to life in the (despised) central cities. So, it is not surprising that the politics of authoritarian Republican governors in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Florida, etc. includes, for example, the angry blocking of major urban rail projects.

    As delightful as Berkeley or Brentwood can be, they do not satisfy everyone’s tastes, nor is it realistic to imagine that many could practically aspire to such expensive lifestyles, even if they did like them. Large swathes of the American population are seeing the good life that they could aspire to, slipping away. The number of households classed as low-income or in poverty is approaching 50%! Now a lot of that is due to financialization and related globalization: the banksters and greedy corp execs have stolen people’s jobs, houses, pensions, the kid’s college education. But, rising gas prices have played their part, and have been a lot easier to understand on the ground, so to speak. To people in rural areas or the ex-urbs, clinging, proverbially, to G-d and Guns, a visit to Berkeley for an attitude change must sound like a Marie Antoinette advising a diet of cake. Going after public employee unions and their pensions seems a lot more concrete and doable.

    Eventually, I expect, economists will begin to adjust their own frameworks, so that climate change has costs, resource depletion has costs, ecological collapse has costs, and regulation and conservation has benefits. When economists stop arguing that restraining global warming will reduce economic growth and social welfare by acceptably small amounts, and argue, more realistically, that restraint will increase incomes and welfare (relative to the alternative path), then we might begin to think about the kind of infrastructure we need for a diverse prosperity.

    Berkeley’s shade of green is not going to be a model for Fresno’s prosperity or for the ambitions of Fresno’s population, many of whom are struggling. Ditto for Detroit and Akron and the ex-urbs and suburbs of Atlanta or for rural Alabama. Frakking the Marcellus Shale, or building the Keystone pipeline, and destroying the water supply of Nebraska or New York, (or the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico) to get a couple of more years of cheap gas, does not seem like a good bet either, but it’s the bet that some powerful people mean to make. (And, I don’t see a lot of economists opposing those ill-advised projects.)

    I think Berkeley is green, because it is easier to imagine a good future from there. Technology, the internet, denser living — they seem to promise a good living and good life. I think it is harder to imagine a good life and a good living in many other places (Fresno for example), on present trends. Which is why people cling to the fading, failing model of cheap-gas suburbs, and are willing to listen the frakkers and BP. I don’t know that it has to be that way. That vision thing can be tough, though. Much of the American South still cannot imagine a prosperity built on anything, but the oppression of a lower caste, even after air conditioning and the passage of a century and a half.

  4. I work in Berkeley (live in San Francisco). Others have noted that the legal architect of our torture regime found a home here. It isn’t enough to provide a good life and a positive world view. Those Berkeley students were shouting “shame” at the school cops for a reason. One can confront bad behavior and stand up to it. You don’t have to be a hippy or a student to do so – just call people out when they support something awful. It works. Not yet with Yoo, and Cheney will be dead before anyone can pressure him, given his health issues. But Santorum has become an Internet joke, only useful as a member of a circular firing squad, and Bush and Rumsfeld can’t leave the country.

  5. ” I have not been able to make progress on why our identity evolves over time.”

    I’d pay a pretty penny for a good account of this. Alas, I am unable to contribute.

  6. To answer your question: no. Because it isn’t exactly where you live it is your culture. Conservatives hate “hippies”. While hippie is a rather meaningless term in the 21st century (much like flapper), it is a pejorative for someone with a different outlooks on life from the conservative. The conservative believes that God gave made domination over the earth to do as he sees fit. So there is no reason to worry about “the environment”. And this is a cultural construct, so moving to Berkley won’t change this. Growing up in Berkley might affect it though.

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