Fees on Use and Abuse of the Commons
CARBON EMISSIONS: In Canada, natural gas, coal and oil are combusted with minimal compensation to Canadians for the privilege of polluting, resource depletion or to cover the costs of climate change. Charges on CO2 emissions (not a CO2 tax) -- equal to the economic rent generated by each type of fossil fuel – collected by the government of Canada would best encourage efficiency and alternatives.
Canada produces 1.8 million barrels of conventional oil per day (Alberta produces 66%, Saskatchewan 16%, offshore Nova Scotia and Newfoundland 14%), and 1 million bpd from the tar sands. Two-thirds of Canadian production is exported to the USA. An average barrel of crude oil will produce a minimum of 317kg of carbon when consumed; roughly three barrels of oil produce one tonne of CO2.
To level the playing field with conservation and alternatives, the federal government could collect the economic rent that accrues to each type of oil at point of entry into each province and when exported. Conventional oil production costs about $30 per barrel, generating about $50 per barrel of economic rent or $32 billion of economic rent. Tar sands oil costs about $50 per barrel generating about $30 or economic rent or $11 billion.
Canada consumes 92.9 billion cu m of natural gas per year, releasing 45% less CO2 per BTU then coal. Collecting the economic rent on natural gas CO2 emissions would generate $6 billion.
(Canadian CO2 emissions in 2006 were 544,680,000. A $100 per tonne carbon tax (around $33 per barrel of oil, plus charges on coal and natural gas) would generate $55 billion for the federal government, not including levies on exports.)
TREES: To compensate Canadians for the use of forests and to encourage value-added, resource-efficient, labour-intensive production and incent non-extractive uses of forests, the Canadian government could collect the economic rent on forest land generating $5 billion annually.
FISH: The Canadian government could collect $5 billion of economic rent to compensate Canadians for granting companies and individuals the privilege of removing publicly owned fish from Canadian waters. (The UN could collect the rent from fishing in international waters.)
LAND: As a disincentive to suburban sprawl, farmland loss and an incentive to build walkable neighbourhoods, a Canada-wide land value levy could be applied to the assessed value of parcels of land (ignoring improvements). The 2009 assessed market value of land in Canada was $1.8 trillion, generating approx $100 billion of economic rent annually. A land value levy collecting 50% of this unearned income would generate about $50 billion per year for the Canadian government.
MINERALS & METALS: To compensate Canadians for granting mining rights of publicly owned non-renewable resources, and to encourage conservation and incent renewable alternatives, the Canadian government could collect the economic rent plus levy a depletion royalty on minerals and metals generating $10 billion.
Fees on Access to Community Assets
AIR RIGHTS: The Government of Canada could apply charges on aircraft over-flights and on airport runway slots to compensate Canadians for noise, visual distraction, pollution, and land loss. At approx. 6000 flights per day in Canada, multiplied by 365 days, times 300 people per flight, at a fee of $10 per person could generate over $6 billion annually.
BILLBOARDS: To compensate Canadians for visual intrusion the federal government could collect the economic rent generated by billboard space. Estimating 20,000 billboards in Canada at average of $5,000 per billboard per year could generate $100 million annually.
(Billboards are banned in Vermont.)
EM SPECTRUM: The electromagnetic spectrum in Canada is in high demand for cellular phones, digital television, wireless Internet, and broadcasting. Canada could follow the lead of NZ, the UK and the US and use periodic spectrum auctions, which could net an estimated $10 billion in economic rent for government.
INTERNET: The internet and web have many features of a commons, and could be referred to the “internet commons”, and the economic rent that internet companies now collect from public telecoms, private ISPs, web domain names, belongs to the public and should be collected by the government. Domain name registration grants a monopoly on words and letters, some of which are very valuable and accrue significant rent. The economic rent from the one million domain names registered in Canada, private ISPs and telecoms could generate an estimated $2 billion. http://www.cira.ca/home-en/ A further Pigouvian charge for email by the sender, as small as 0.01¢ per email (that is: 1¢ per 100 emails) would have little impact on legitimate business or users, but would have a significant impact on spam.
STOCK EXCHANGES: Canadian stock exchanges generate wealth for investors because of the industriousness of the Canada population and the exploitation of publicly-owned resources. Some of this wealth could accrue to the federal government on behalf of its citizens. E.g., the TSX, for February 2010: traded 7,124.7 million shares worth $92,991.2 Million. A 1% tax would have yielded $930 Million. Canada’s stock exchanges could be levied $20 billion per year, based on less then a one-percentage charge of the volume of exchanges.
QUOTAS, LISCENCES, PATENTS: Controlled access to the Canadian population granted to pharmaceutical and other product patents, taxi licenses, milk and meat quotas, are exclusive privileges that could carry charges to governments equivalent to the economic rent generated, rather then one time internal sales and auctions. The federal government share of this rent could be $5 billion.
COAL: Canada consumes around 60 million tonnes of coal per year; complete combustion of 1 short ton (2,000 pounds) of this coal will generate about 5,720 pounds (2.86 short tons) of carbon dioxide.
A Pigouvian tax of $100 per ton of CO2 would generate $6 billion.
ROADS, PARKING, DOCKS: Canada has 900,000km of roads. A levy per kilometer driven on the 38,000km of federal government maintained roads would help incent alternatives to cars and trucks. A charge of $0.02 per km of road travel for cars and light trucks and $0.10 per km for heavy trucks could generate $10 billion annually. A levy for parking on federal land and use of federal docks could generate additional revenue.
CELL PHONE TOWERS, HYDRO AND TELEPHONE WIRES: The privilege of causing visual distraction and electromagnetic pollution could carry a fee payable to governments, with the federal government share estimated at $4 billion annually.
NOISE, LIGHT, ODOURS: The community could be recompensed by applying charges on excessive lighting, intrusive odours and noise from roads, industry, aircraft, watercraft, leaf-blowers, chainsaws, clubs and restaurants. With revenue shared municipally, provincially and federally, this could generate $1 billion for the federal government.
LANDFILLS: Charges on garbage dumping to compensate Canadians for lack of product stewardship, plus charges on disposable packaging and products to encourage repair, reuse, recycling, could generate $2 billion per annum for the federal government.
WATER: Water is a precious resource granted essentially without fees in Canada. A levy per litre of water-taking from ground and surface water could encourage water conservation. Municipalities bill their customers around .001/litre for water. A federal government levy also of $0.001 per litre would encourage water conservation from ground or surface water and generate $5 billion to the federal government if the 5 trillion litres worth of permits issued in Canada are used.
TOBIN TAX: On March 23, 1999 the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa passed Motion M-239 "That, in the opinion of the House, the government should enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community." A tax of between .1 and .5 per cent on currency exchange transactions would limit the damage from excessive exchange rate volatility and raise significant revenue. With global foreign exchange revenues over $1.3 trillion per day, estimated global revenue from the Tobin Tax is in the range of $150 to $300 billion per year. Canada’s share: approximately $20 billion.
a. Resource rental capture dampens boom-bust economic cycles by removing the incentive to speculate on land, resources and monopoly access of community assets.
b. Collection and compliance costs of economic rent recovery are a fraction of those of the present range of taxes. The difficulty of evading rent charges, compared to the ease of evading labour, business and sales taxes, will shrink the underground economy.
c. Reducing dead weight taxes on production and labour maximizes economic efficiency and invigorates the economy. Since speculation and monopoly ownership will become less attractive, capital will instead move to productive enterprises, reducing liquidity shortages and reducing the severity of recessions.
d. Regularly collecting the capital gains component of energy, land and natural resources rather then taxing jobs makes labour more affordable. Untaxing earned income is politically popular.
e. This fiscal policy is immune to political opposition since government would only be collecting the unearned uplift in land and resource values resulting from the provision of additional services and publicly financed infrastructure.
f. Infrastructure projects (transit, sewers, roads, educational facilities, hospitals) become self-financing when the resulting increase in the land values is captured for this purpose.
g. Collecting economic rent domestically makes resources and land unattractive to both foreign and domestic speculators.
h. Funding government by collecting the unearned increment that accrues to land and resources doesn’t raise their cost, but it does creates a revenue stream to government that allows for reduction of other taxes.
i. When the unearned increment that accrues to land and finite resources is captured for the public purse, their use is not discouraged since the tax cannot be passed on. To the contrary, economic rent capture encourages resources to be put to optimal usage since holding these assets out production for speculative purposes becomes uneconomical.
Compensation and Reimbursement
Those who contribute back to the commons should be monetarily compensated or reimbursed.
a. Farmers and landowners who remove land from production to provide ecological services like carbon sequestration, water and soil conservation, or provide habitat for wild plants and creatures could be compensated for their loss of commodity revenue and rewarded for their non-commodity service.
b. Northern communities with economies dependent on crown lands, which reduce or modify extractive activities to provide ecological services like carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, water, soil or biomass conservation could be compensated for their collective loss of commodity revenue.
c. As a direct benefit from the recoup of windfall profits from publicly-owned sources all citizens could receive an equal share of the economic rent generated in Canada in the form of a Citizens Dividend. This would offset the resource costs of basic living expenses and help reduce or eliminate poverty.