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One of my favorite Christmas cartoons (claymations) was the Year Without a Santa Claus. That’s the one with this guy in it:

He's Mr. Green Christmas, He's Mr. Sun

His brother Snow Miser is also in the show. I got to thinking about their names while hanging some Christmas lights the other night and you know what? They’re incredibly stupid! Calling these two brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser is like calling Santa the present miser or calling the Easter Bunny the chocolate miser. Seriously. What do we think the term miser means? Doesn’t it mean someone that is stingy with their stuff? In the case of “Heat Miser” wouldn’t it mean that Mr. Green Christmas was not forthcoming with heat and sun? But that is precisely the opposite of his schtick. Same for his brother snowy.

What the heck does this have to do with this blog? Well, it’s fun to not take oneself too seriously sometimes. Alas, there is another message to convey. First of all, I am moderately offended that the term miser has come to be used pejoratively. After all, think of how virtuous certain miserly activities are considered to be. What if you were an energy miser? It would mean you have stored up lots of potential energy, but have not dispersed it, nor ever would. Is that “bad?” Or how about a promiscuity miser?

On a somewhat related note, I got to thinking of myself as a bit of a heat miser. I don’t like to turn the heat up very much in the winter. First of all, I like being cool (my wife does not!). Second of all, I am a cheap bast$rd, I hate spending money on my heating bill when I could do other things with it, even savings. This now brings me to the reason I wrote up this post. I am very much a supporter of using the price system to ration scarce resources. And when it comes to appropriate regulatory rules for dealing with problems (such as global warming policy), to the extent that we are going to get regulation, I’d much prefer them to be market oriented. So, for example, if forced to choose a global warming policy that was not “do nothing” I would much prefer a carbon tax.

But think of what a carbon tax does. It raises the price of carbon intensive activities like driving, heating your home and mowing your grass. These policies, I would argue, are unfair to misers. For some folks (like me!) we already have economized a great deal on how much energy and fuel we use, and adjusted our lifestyles in such a way as to accommodate that. At the current margin of use, it is not much easier for us to adjust. For example, the average winter temperature in our home is probably around 63 degrees. If heating prices increased due to a carbon tax, I would be facing either divorce from my wife, a visit from child and family services for freezing my kids, moving to a warmer climate or simply paying the larger tax on my already limited fuel use. I suppose I could spend even more money to make our home efficient – but it is already a small-ish home and pretty well insulated as it is. This is true more generally when it comes to price signals. When prices increase, the folks who have already made lots of economizing adjustments are more likely to have income effects dominate substitution effects and for folks who perhaps make more use of resources there is more room for substitution.

I could draw some indifference curves and budget constrains to demonstrate these impacts, but then I’d be giving away a midterm question for my class next semester. In any case I think the implications for policy go beyond fairness here. Lots of economists simply assume that the elasticity of demand for certain carbon-intense activities is pretty high (i.e. we respond a lot to price changes). I’m not so sure, particularly as we’ve become much more energy efficient over the past 40 years and particularly as prospects for serious energy transitions are not bright and prospects for continued use of fossil fuels are. Supporters of large government might actually rejoice – taxing carbon seems to me to be a big revenue generator if these conditions are in fact true.

3 Responses to “The Year Without a Santa Claus”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    That’s been my fav. of the Christmas specials since I was a kid. I also have a special fondness for Nestor.

    The one I like the least? Frosty. He shows complete disregard for property rights.

  2. sherlock says:

    I’m partial to the one and only, Burgermeister Meisterburger.


  3. Rod says:

    My least favorite pagan winter holiday figure is the Norelco Santa, riding on the snow on property he probably does not own. Stuff it, Norelco Santa.

    As for carbon taxes, the revenues thus generated would be frittered away, possibly on broken windows. If Prince Charles wants to give away his millions to solar panel researchers, good for him, but don’t try to steer my behavior through misguided tax policy.

    Some fuel taxes are okay by me as long as they are used for roads and bridges. Every penny of taxes beyond what’s necessary for roads and bridges is a penny denied to those who might see a further incentive to find and develop fossil fuel resources. Frack onward!

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