Denmark, having apparently learned nothing about how it’s own people respond to incentives, wants to “encourage ethical behavior by taxing beef to reduce its consumption and CO2 impacts,” as reported in this Washington Post article and elsewhere.

Borders are a little too porous for a unilateral beef tax to do much good – and it’s likely to make CO2 emissions worse.                                                                                                                              I took this picture in Cambridge, UK last fall because the idea that “Frikadeller” – which Danes take so much pride in –  were being sold as “the original German…” entertained me.

They tried this in 2011 with a fat tax – had to repeal it a year later.
The net effect of passing this proposal will almost certainly be an increase in CO2 emissions. Folks will certainly shift away from purchasing beef in Danish stores and restaurants. But the fat tax experience – as well as the deposit-refund “savings bargain” experience – show that Danes behavioral changes will be to increase freezer size and trips to Germany to purchase beef products there.

What’s the deposit-refund “savings bargain,” you ask? Denmark has a deposit-refund system for cans. Germany does too. But Danes buying in Germany can avoid paying the deposit by showing a Danish ID – with the additional wrinkle that the can is no longer recyclable through either system – or rather, the estimated 6-700 million cans that the 5.5 million Danes are estimated to bring across the border now are much more likely to end in landfills.

Add to that all the gas, car emissions, traffic, road accidents, time loss and so on that accompany these trips to Germany and you can sense how likely it is that a little tweaking of the beef tax is going to reduce CO2 emissions…