A carbon tax, we are often told, is "politically impossible." The American people just wouldn't stand for it, and they'd rise up en masse to dump any politicians crazy enough to try it.
But what makes Americans so special? Or American politicians so pusillanimous? Why can't we be more like France? In May, French voters elected as president the right-wing politician Nicolas Sarkozy -- a result that delighted American conservatives.
On Wednesday the French government, under Sarkozy's direction, announced a hefty set of fines and bonuses aimed at discouraging purchases of gas-guzzling new cars. This is, to all intents and purposes, a carbon tax.
From January 1, any driver who buys a new car emitting more than 160 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer (just over half a mile) will be charged a penalty of up to 2,600 euros (3,800 dollars).
Penalties will start at 200 euros, rising to 750 for emissions above 166 grams, and 1,600 euros above 200 grams. The top tax bracket is set to concern 1 percent of all cars, those spewing out more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide, the ministry said.
Buyers of more environmentally-friendly cars receive a bonus of up to 1,000 euros, based on the car's greenhouse gas emissions, with an extra cash award for scrapping a polluting old vehicle at the same time.
Vive la France! Let the French fry feasting begin!