By Imogen Davies on May 18, 2012
Tags: "Robin Hood Tax" G8 FTT "Financial Transaction Tax" Europe EU "Global Week of Action" "Camp David" "gordon Brown" IMF "European Commission" UNCTAD "Bill Gates" Vatican "Archbishop of Canterbury" "Rowa
If Gandhi’s chronology of ‘first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’ is anything to go by, the Robin Hood Tax campaign is getting close to its goal. When we launched two years ago, the idea of taxing the banks was unimaginable; now it’s taken giant leaps towards reality.
As the G8 leaders meet at Camp David, campaigners from around the world will be carrying out a series of events for the Robin Hood Tax Global Week of Action to remind leaders that the time for a Financial Transaction Tax is now.
The Robin Hood Tax campaign has been staggeringly successful in several respects. When the idea began to surface in 2010 – Gordon Brown’s intervention at the G20 Finance Ministerial in the autumn – it was obviously an old one in some ways: John Maynard Keynes first proposed a transactions tax in 1936 and James Tobin had suggested a currency transactions tax in 1973. But the relatively recent rapid growth of the derivatives market meant that the call for a Robin Hood Tax or Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) was qualitatively new, especially because for the first time it would be not just a market regulator as Keynes and Tobin had proposed, but a major money-spinner. And as the IMF has reported, at least 16 of the G20 economies have had some form of FTT in place over the last decade or two.
The call for a full-blooded FTT – shares, derivatives, currency – was slammed by the IMF, the Financial Times (mostly by omission), and many commentators. But our massive popular appeal (a global movement representing over 220 million people, and majority support in polls across western Europe) got us through the front door of the media, governments and international institutions. And it’s not just popular support; over a thousand economists have backed the idea including Joesph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs. The idea continued to gain support with Bill Gates, the Vatican, Archbishop Rowan Williams, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon all signing on.
Two major multilateral institutions, the IMF and the European Commission, have been converted from slamming the idea as unrealistic to admitting that it is feasible and progressive. And as concern over speculation has grown, those worried about these issues have become more supportive (most recently UNCTAD, who have backed an FTT to tackle commodity speculation, following the leader of UNAIDS last summer). The European Parliament, the French, German and Spanish Parliaments have all recently carried resolutions supporting an FTT. So has Brazil’s, the joint ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly, and Francophone African Finance Ministers. The Governments of Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Greece, Luxemburg, Slovakia, Brazil and South Africa are also in favour.
Not everyone is convinced, and there are still arguments to be had about how to implement FTT, but the argument now is really about “how” and “when”. Some people won’t support an FTT until those technical details have been ironed out, while others accept that – as with almost every other tax – those are questions to be determined once the principle has been adopted.
So here’s the timetable. This week G8 leaders are meeting for their annual summit, with four out of the eight countries there supporting the tax. This is followed by the G20 and Rio Summit. Following this, at the end of June, Finance Ministers from across Europe will meet to start taking this idea from discussion to reality. As the global economy continues to struggle, all eyes will be on world leaders to fix the system at these upcoming meetings. By curbing casino capitalism Robin Hood taxes will help do that, in addition to raising tens of billions to help the world’s poorest people.
It is up to all of us to make enough noise to ensure whatever tax they agree is ambitious enough, with the revenue raised going to good causes to ensure any new tax is worthy of the name Robin Hood Tax. We can’t win the battle and lose the war.
It will take 2012 and maybe 2013 for those taxes to be introduced, and a couple more years before it becomes clear enough that the sky has not fallen in for other governments to realise either that they now have cover to be brave, or reason to catch up.
Ideas this good don’t come along every day. And when they do, they’re too powerful to ignore.