A Carbon Tax Beats a Vacuum BanBy Sita Slavov (1) Starting in September, the European Union will ban vacuum cleaners using more than 1,600 watts of power, with the limit slated to be lowered to 900 watts by 2017. This ban won t just affect a handful of the worst offenders. According to the European Commission, the average vacuum cleaner sold today uses 1,800 watts.
(2) Intended largely to reduce carbon emissions, the vacuum cleaner ban joins numerous other regulations throughout the world that severely restrict consumers choices. Want an incandescent light bulb? Too bad they re banned. How about a gas guzzling car? Sorry they re being squeezed out by tighter fuel economy standards.
(3) Rules like these rub many people the wrong way because they represent government intrusion into even the most minute of personal decisions. Do we really want the government telling us what kind of vacuum cleaner or light bulb to buy? Don t policy makers have better things to think about? Backers of such regulations counter that, when people buy powerful vacuum cleaners and incandescent bulbs, they don t take into account the spillover costs they impose on others by contributing to climate change.
(4) Fortunately, there s a better solution. A carbon tax set to reflect the spillover costs of carbon emissions would eliminate the need to micromanage the kinds of vacuum cleaners and light bulbs that people can buy. Instead, the tax would provide consumers with an incentive to act in a socially responsible manner by ensuring that those who operate such products pick up the tab for the climate harm they cause.
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