Have you heard? Robin Hood Is Back!
I’ve heard the news and I’m now really excited. Not because some folk lore character is being invoked by some of the biggest names in the NGO sector (Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children) – nor because Bill Nighy makes a great banker under fire or Richard Curtis a good campaign film. Its because Britain finally has a viable campaign for a Tobin Tax. Go watch the video and sign up.
First, I need to explain what I’m on about. A Tobin Tax was originally a small, global tax on inter-currency transactions, but can also be taken to mean a tax on any and every banking transaction that doesn’t involve an end customer. This would mean every time a bank moved its money around, it would pay 0.05% to a pot of money for the common good. The amount may look trivial, but stacks up to billions.
Second, we need some history. In 1972, economist and Nobel laureate James Tobin proposed a taxation on all currency transactions like that described in the previous paragraph, with the aim of creating a fund to be used for philanthropic purposes. That fund might have been held by the United Nations. It was designed to stop short-term speculation that could disrupt global money markets and crash national economies (remember Argentina in 2001?).
This gave rise to one of Europe’s biggest Economic and Global Justice charities: ATTAC. Go to any European or Global gathering of activists, and people know all about this. Travel round meetings in Britain, and its possible people who campaign on debt relief and trade justice don’t know what the heck you’re on about. ATTAC occupies a position a little similar to World Development Movement in the consciousness of campaigners in Europe, though this is not a perfect parallel by any means.
As the idea required a global agreement, suggestions for something that would work at domestic level arose – and we have the variant of a Tobin Tax being proposed today:
The Robin Hood Tax campaign is being launched with the backing of a “Who’s Who” in UK social justice campaigning: ActionAid, ActSA, Barnardo’s, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Church Action on Poverty, Comic Relief, Housing Justice, Oxfam GB, ONE (Bono’s org), People and Planet, Plan UK, Salvation Army, Save the Children, Stop Aids Campaign, Tearfund, UNICEF, War on Want, World Development Movement. Plus there’s some bonus orgs in there: Centre for Alternative Technology, RSPB and National Union of Teachers are all listed, as well as the TUC and a couple of Unions, with more expected.
This is the first time, at least in recent memory, that a Tobin-style financial tax has been promoted. The idea is, in many ways, established orthodoxy, and far from revolutionary. But it comes at a sensible time: the banking crisis means the public are more likely to get behind this now than at any time in the last 10 years.
It will be very interesting to see how fast the movement develops, what turns it takes, and how much the bigger NGO’s turn it into a branded football for their own pleasure and ego’s. But if its played out well, it could be a major issue come election time.
But wait a minute; where does the money end up? Well, that’s small print that needs closer inspection. Tobin never intended the money from his global fund to be used for “security” or law enforcement, but rather for projects in the Global South. I would say that such money should be split 50/50 between domestic projects that need special funding and projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Oversight needs to be placed in a body free of bankers and insulated from Westminster enough to make sure it doesn’t become a fund for political ends.
Neither is this going to magically rule out any further banking crisis; it might stabilise markets a small amount, but it won’t actually solve the underlying issues of Capitalism. But as long as that can be held in mind, this campaign offers a workable method of ensuring the banking industry gives to those most in need, and thus I commend it to everyone as a worthy cause to sign up to.