Bootleggers, Baptists, and Global Warming

As the negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol drag on, environmentalists, corporations, and governments are lobbying in backrooms for provisions that will benefit their own interests…

Regular SeekerBlog readers will be familiar with Prof. Bruce Yandle’s public choice theory of Bootleggers and Baptists. E.g., I wrote a post last year on the application of the theory to the “liquid pork” of ethanol: Corn ethanol, bootleggers & Baptists. I find Yandle’s framing helpful for critical analysis of any proposed energy policy — it clarifies why a carbon tax is superior to a cap and trade scheme.

The average politician loves cap and trade because if he can get the legislation passed the politician is much better off than before it was passed — he will have added many new campaign contributors to his Rolodex of those owing repayment — the rent seeking beneficiaries of the complex new regulations, taxes and subsidies.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is not immune to special interest distortions — but the simplicity and transparency of the carbon tax makes it difficult to hide what is going on from the voters.

If at all possible, please hop directly over to the Hoover Institution to read Yandle’s 2001 essay on Kyoto. You’ll find that he predicted most of the reasons that Kyoto failed. It is a wonderful example of critical, economic thinking. Even though it was written in 2001, it illuminates every critical issue that is being fought over in capitals around the world.

…as the Baptists work hard to adopt the treaty, the bootleggers will be converting environmental policy to an industrial policy that favors them.

Wikipedia has a short article on the these principles:

The bootleggers and the Baptists both have an incentive to ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays, the former with the economic reason and the latter with the ethical justification that people will support, though by their very nature they wouldn’t get along. The politician effectively acts as the go-between, taking the bootlegger’s campaign contributions and citing the Baptist’s morals in speeches.