LaborTalk for December 9, 2011

A 'Robin Hood' Tax on International Trade Can Produce
Huge Annual Funds to Help Solve Global Economic Crisis

By Harry Kelber

The proposal to tax corporations a small amount for each international transaction has gained widespread approval, especially in Europe, where at least four of the 17 countries in the Eurozone are facing their most serious economic crisis.

A similar version of the financial transaction tax (FTT) has been introduced in Congress by Senator Tom Harkin (Dem-Iowa) and Representative Peter DeFazio (Dem-Or). They say that a $3 tax on $10,000 worth of transactions could raise as much as $350 billion in 10 years, an amount that could be a boon to U.S. states and cities that are struggling to meet huge budget deficits

The FTT has become a rallying point for labor unions, non-governmental organizations, Move On and independent groups, who see it as a relatively painless way to increase revenue without the paralyzing debates between Republicans and Democrats.

The National Nurses Union (NNU) has been among the leaders in actively promoting the transaction tax. It recently held demonstrations at the offices of 60 members of Congress in support of the measure.

"The thing about the financial transaction tax is it's stunning how quickly people get it and how fast they embrace it," says Rose Ann DeMoro, NNU executive director.

The leaders of the two strongest economies in Europe, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, and Nicholas Sarkozy, president of France, are openly enthusiastic about the trade tax. Predictions are that the tax could raise $57 billion euros (U.S. $77 billion) a year in European countries alone.

American and British Opposition to Transaction Tax

The Robin Hood tax proposal has received warm and growing global approval, except in Great Britain and the United States, whose opposition remains a major stumbling block to its enactment. Critics say that investors will avoid trade with countries that impose the tax, and flee to countries that do not require it. Big-time U.S. investors as well as the banks and major corporations are opposed to the tax, with Republicans against it in principle as a tax-raising measure.

George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, described the proposed tax as "economic suicide" for Europe. In this time of economic crisis, he said, the European Union "should be coming forward with new ideas to promote growth, not undermine it." Glenn Hubbard, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, said the Robin Hood Tax is a "monstrously bad idea."

President Obama is reported to be "lukewarm" to the FTT tax, but would probably side with Wall Street while expressing his support for the revenue-raising goals of the tax. The AFL-CIO is in favor of the tax but has so far done little to promote it.

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Meanwhile, several countries are moving forward to apply the principles of the transaction tax. On Nov. 16, the French Senate passed a bill supporting a financial transaction tax. The European Commission in Brussels is advocating a tax of $10 per $10,000 of transactions and would like to see the legislation operating throughout Europe by 2014.

Mario Monti, the new Italian prime minister, announced plans to impose a tax on certain financial transactions as part of a far-reaching plan to fix his country's budgetary problems. He also endorsed the idea of a European-wide transaction tax.

While there is a likelihood that many countries around the globe will adopt a transaction tax as a way to increase their revenue and ease their budget crisis, Great Britain and the United States will continue to feel that it is in their economic interest to abstain.

The transaction tax has languished in Congress since it was first introduced in 1976 and became known as the Tobin Tax after its creator, an economist named James Tobin, who won a Nobel Prize. Can it be resurrected and adapted to modern times? It will take a far greater effort by labor and its allies to win the prize.

Robin Hood was a heroic outlaw in English folklore A skilled archer and swordsman, he is known for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

LaborTalk will be posted here on December 13, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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