I posted this as my Economy, Energy, & Education vision for America to the Economy section on Change.gov. It could equally well have gone in the Energy & Environment section. I also used it as my contribution to the Repower America petition from Environment America. It is heavily derivative of Eco-Economy/Plan B, Natural Capitalism, & Al Gore’s Repower America platform.

President-Elect Obama:

Thank you for the opportunity to voice my vision for America.

In the current accelerating economic crisis, you have an historic opportunity to make significant changes to U.S. government policy which will affect the course of our nation and the world. I implore you take a broad and long view as you plot your response, recognizing that our present economic crisis is not the only one we face. Rather, we stand against multiple threats, in particular, threats to our environment, significantly from the long-term climatic disturbances due to global warming, to our long-term economic competitiveness and national standard of living from flagging educational achievement compared with other nations, as well as continuing threats to our national security from the specter of global terrorism.

While a series of short-term stimulus packages will no doubt be required to shore up our economy, please take the long view when designing them and the broader policy reforms that will accompany them. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity by implementing integrated, systemic changes that simultaneously address our present needs while laying the foundation for solutions to our long-term problems, all the while remaining true to our shared ideals and values: See that economic reforms preserve our individual autonomy, the free markets that have brought our nation’s prosperity, while at the same time protecting those individuals and segments of the environment that the markets alone have ignored or actively harmed.

In particular, I urge you to phase-in a massive restructuring of our tax system, radically lowering income taxes while preserving a highly progressive structure, maintaining revenue neutrality by levying taxes on activities which create negative externalities and phasing out subsidies for environmentally destructive practices. This work-rewarding economic strategy has the advantage of increasing consumer purchasing power, thereby bolstering the economy in our current economic downturn, while simultaneously guiding purchases away from ultimately self-destructive environmentally detrimental purchases, funneling capital in sustainable ways. This tax-shifting strategy should include:

  • Carbon dioxide taxes and/or cap & trade greenhouse gas emissions markets to prevent the worse effects of the impending global-warming induced climate crisis.
  • Comprehensive initiatives to value ecosystem services, making it economically profitable to prevent aquifer depletion and leave land undeveloped or return land to its natural state, in order to provide clean water, clean air, carbon dioxide sinks, and wildlife habitat for current & future generations.
  • Congestion taxes to curb polluting & gridlock-inducing automobile traffic & encourage investment in cost effective, energy-efficient, public transportation.
    Phase-outs of subsidies for fossil-fuel and nuclear energy generation to allow all energy sources to compete on price in the context of strict greenhouse gas and other harmful pollution-limiting regimens.
  • Phase-outs of subsidies for (at least) foodstock-derived biofuels, which do little or nothing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions or achieve energy independence, but do unnecessarily increase global food prices by diverting land and crops to the production of fuel in preference to food.
  • Phase-outs of nonessential agricultural subsidies, which often bias production toward unsustainable farming practices and the wasteful overproduction of government-selected crops, undermining public health through overconsumption of subsidized foods with low nutritive value.

While many will call for the subsidization of alternative energy sources, I caution against government over-involvement in this area, as subsidies too often have unintended negative consequences, as the examples above demonstrate, because the government, as a limited actor, does not have the requisite variety in knowledge, information, or expertise to make decisions that “pick winners” by subsidizing particular technologies or industries over others. Moreover, subsidy programs have a dangerous tendency to become autopoeitic, with subsidized industries forming strong lobbying groups to influence Congress to continue & expand subsidies far in excess of any social benefit, which represents waste and an unconscionable cost to the taxpayer, especially at a time when the economy is in crisis.

That said, the government should take a role in investment & sponsorship of areas the private sector cannot effectively finance through pure market mechanisms. In particular, government-funded stimuli introduced to alleviate our present economic crisis should be targeted in a way that helps solve our pressing environmental, social, & security problems:

  • Provide incentives and enact regulations to ensure the rapid upgrade of the U.S. electrical system to a “smart grid” capable of creating markets for not only selling energy to U.S. consumers, but buying it from those who invest in solar cells & other household-scale electrical generation utilities.
  • Expand tax credits for investments in energy efficiency in LEED-level & higher home building/remodeling practices, & in automobile purchases to reduce our nation’s energy needs, decrease global warming pollution, and offset potentially higher energy prices due to phased-out fossil-fuel subsidies & carbon dioxide taxation.
  • The foregoing measures will promote adoption of plug-in hybrid automobiles, a promising way to reduce our carbon footprint and restore automobile sales (and therefore automobile production jobs), while maintaining the freedom and flexibility of automobile transport.
  • At the same time, the government should balance infrastructure investments in the maintenance of our automobile-centric highway transportation system with increased funding for energy-efficient, low-pollution options such as public mass-transit, mandatory bicycle lanes, and massively interconnected networks of bicycle paths to provide cost-effective & environmentally preferable transportation alternatives.
  • Invest in upgrades to our other public works to make them more efficient & less prone to terrorist attack, simultaneously providing jobs while increasing our national security.
    Provide directives to federal agencies to ensure that all funding for projects respect environmental and social priorities, in particular, stopping land & energy-consuming suburban sprawl.
  • Sponsor research grants & competitions in developing non-polluting energy sources to spark the creation of jobs & markets in much-needed new energy technologies to meet our energy needs while avoiding a global-warming induced climate crisis.
  • Commit the U.S. to an ambitious national goal of energy independence based on clean energy sources. Support this commitment with the aforementioned public infrastructure upgrades & research investments, along with even more fundamental investments in public science, technology, engineering, & math education that will be required to bring us long-term solutions in this critical area. Such a program will have multiple synergistic benefits, including stimulating job creation in the education & energy sectors, thereby helping the U.S. economy, moving the U.S. toward environmentally sustainable energy sources, thereby averting a global environmental crisis, bolstering our public education system, thereby maintaining our long-term economic competitiveness, all the while decreasing our reliance on foreign oil, which will sap income from the too-often corrupt, oil-financed regimes funding global terrorism, thereby increasing our national security and, with hope, forcing these oil-revenue-dependent countries to invest in their populace rather than exploit their natural resources to maintain & improve their standard of living.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share a vision for America’s future. I urge you to take full advantage of the opportunity hidden in our present financial crisis to pursue a comprehensive program of tax reform and selective public investment. Cut income taxes to spur consumer spending, thereby creating economic activity, expanded markets, and ultimately more jobs, helping to reverse our current economic woes. Responsibly finance these tax cuts and lead spending away from self-destructive purchases by phasing-out subsidies for and levying taxes on environmentally destructive activities, while supporting constructive investments in our future. I have confidence that you will act boldly to counter our economic crisis, and with great foresight in doing so.