How to Make Robin Hood Proud

Article excerpt

The push for taxing financial transactions gains steam in Europe - will the United States follow suit?

TAX WALL STREET" READ a simple, homemade placard high above the crowd of thousands of members of unions, community groups and Occupy activists protesting outside the mid-October convention of bankers and futures traders in downtown Chicago. Curtís Smith, president of the local affiliate of National People's Action, a network of community organizations focused on the mortgage crisis and financial industry reform, seized a microphone to detail the demand.

Among other measures, Smith proposed a tax on financia! transactions, including the sale of stock, bonds and derivatives. The tax would make Wall Street better serve the Main Street economy, and it would generate tens - even several hundreds - of billions of dollars annually in much-needed revenue for worthy projects. Governments would collect the tax on financial transactions most prone to harmful speculation, and wealthy individuals and financial institutions would mainly pay. That's why NPA and British campaigners call it the "Robin Hood tax."

In the weeks before the Chicago protests, the European Commission had proposed a financial transaction tax for Europe by 2014- reversing its earlier rejection of an FTT. Conservative leaders of both France and Germany- Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel- vowed to press adoption of the tax at the Gzo leaders meeting in France in early November, despite opposition from the conservative British government and the Obama administration. On November 3, international union delegations demonstrated for an FTT outside the G2O conference.

In Washington on the same day, National Nurses United protested with other unions and allies, urging Congress to "Heal America/Tax Wall Street," and labor-community rallies around the country urged political leaders to enact the tax. And in Congress, one day earlier, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) re-introduced their proposal for a very modest FTT.

The idea of imposing a very small tax on some sales of financial products is not new; British economist John Maynard Keynes proposed a stock speculation tax in the 19303. In recent years, the FTT has picked up support from some prominent business leaders (including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) and many economists, from Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman to the 1,000 economists from 53 nations who signed a letter last April saying an FTT was "technically feasible" and "morally right. …