Deception & Misdirection

Carbon taxes, the brain, and a certain fairy tale

[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]

This is a story about carbon taxes. First, though, let’s discuss fairy tales and brain structures.

The tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” highlights a key element in deception strategy—that of tricking people into believing something or, just as well, acting as if they believe something, by presenting a false idea as “consensus.”

It’s easy to demonstrate this. Stand on a city sidewalk looking up, and watch passers-by look up, trying to see what you’re seeing. To make the effect more powerful, have some friends join your group, one by one every few seconds, all of them looking in the same direction. Don’t be surprised if, after a few minutes, there’s a big group of people straining to see the mysterious object or event. More fun: Have your friends start whispering to each other about that thing they’re supposedly seeing—say, an airplane towing a banner—and some of the observers will start “seeing” the same thing (or, at least, they’ll tell people they see it).

One experiment, show on a recent episode of the TV series “Brain Games,” went like this: A woman is sitting in a waiting room, minding her own business. Whenever a chime is heard, the other people in the waiting room stand up for a moment, then sit down. (They’re actors.) At first, the woman seems puzzled, but eventually she joins the group in this activity, for no reason other than the fact that others are doing it. There must be some good reason they’re standing up in response to the chime, right? One by one, other unwitting participants enter the waiting room, see the crowd following the chime/standing pattern, and join in. One by one, the actors leave the room. Finally, the actors are gone, and we are left with a roomful of people who, when they hear a chime, stand up for a moment, then sit back down.  They don’t know why. They don’t question the process. They just do it.

Our brains are wired for the follow-the-leader response (a.k.a. “monkey see, monkey so”). It’s part of a complex system that enables us to copy the actions of others and to experience empathy—to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. We have mirror neurons, nerve cells that fire when you take an action or observe others taking such action, for example, when you see a player for your favorite football team intercept the ball and you jump up from the couch as if to run for the endzone. In the brain, “free will” may be regulated in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which, among many other things, processes signals from other people such as facial expressions and encourages us to bring our behavior in line with others’.

When an advocate for Global Warming theory says (without any legitimate basis) that 97 percent of scientists are GW believers, he or she is taking advantage of this tendency for humans to go along with the crowd.

“Warmers” run into a barrier, though, when they try to persuade people of the rightness of their cause. With regard to controversial political issues, we tend to believe ideas put forth by people with whom we generally agree, and disbelieve ideas put forth by the other side. For example, studies have shown that Democrats tend to believe President Obama and his allies on Global Warming, and Republicans tend to be very skeptical. This appears to have reached a saturation point: There doesn’t seem to be anything that leftist or Democrat environmental extremists can do to increase the number of GW believers, no matter how shrill the extremists get, no matter how much they stigmatize GW skeptics by likening them to Nazi sympathizers (as “climate deniers” akin to “Holocaust deniers”) or by seeking to blacklist them. Anyone on their side of the fence who’s susceptible to their arguments is already a Warmer, and their arguments have little impact among the moderates/conservatives/libertarians who (correctly) see Warmers as superstitious zealots.

To win, Warmers may need to gain converts among people not previously associated with environmental extremism. That brings us to the carbon tax.


“Conservatives” for a carbon tax??

The Warmers are working now to create a Second Front in their war against science, by bringing forth people with well-earned positive reputations to argue for GW theory or for policies based on that theory such as a carbon tax.

The Niskanen Center, on the Web at , was founded in the aftermath of a recent split at the libertarian Cato Institute. On March 23, it issued a study that, according to a press release, argued that “conservatives should make a carbon tax the centerpiece of their environmental agenda.”

The study’s author, Jerry Taylor, wrote at :

Today, the Niskanen Center released a study I wrote arguing that Congressional Republicans should put forward a carbon tax and conservatives should throw themselves into getting it passed. Better to let market actors decide (in response to price signals) where, when, and how greenhouse gas emissions are controlled than have government bureaucrats do the same via regulation. The carbon tax bill I have in mind would:

  • Levy the carbon taxes at the point of production;
  • Use tax proceeds to offset revenue losses from tax cuts so as to ensure revenue neutrality;
  • Impose charges on imported goods the equivalent of what they would have had to pay had the imported goods been produced in the United States;
  • Rebate some portion of the tax to poor households to mitigate against the regressively of the tax;
  • Eliminate EPA’s regulatory authority over greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Eliminate green energy subsidies and tax preferences;
  • Eliminate energy efficiency standards;
  • Repeal the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE); and
  • Preempt state renewable energy portfolio standards.

. . .

Even if you don’t believe that climate change is a problem worth addressing, you should still embrace something like the plan I outlined in my study. As my friend and Niskanen Center advisory board member John Cochrane says to those who believe doing anything about climate change is a waste of money, “Look, if we’re going to waste money, let’s minimize the damage.”


This isn’t the first time that someone has tried to advance the carbon tax as a “conservative” or Republican idea. Among those who’ve tried to promote the concept: former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina); the Christian Coalition (which also backed Internet censorship/”net neutrality”); Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign and later president of American Action Forum, a so-called “country club Republican” group; Greg Mankiw, economic advisor to President George W. Bush and to Mitt Romney; former Secretary of State George Shultz; Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker; and Arthur Laffer, the guru of supply-side economics.

But, as Michael Bastasch and I revealed in the August 2013 issue of Green Watch, the folks behind this “conservative” effort include many of the same individual Warmers and Warmer organizations that support such efforts on the Left.

To see our article, go to  .


Dr. Steven J. Allen

Dr. Allen heads CRC’s investigative unit, writes a series exposing political deception, and covers labor unions and environmental groups. He previously served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton, as editor…
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