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Robin Hood Takes Aim

by JEAN ROSS

The demise that is engulfing our nation, and many others, is not an act of nature, a result of immutable markets or other indiscernible forces.   Like the decades-long campaign of wage discipline, the trillions in cash held today by U.S. corporations– at both financial and non-financial companies alike, and the more than 100 million Americans living at twice poverty – $38,000 a year for a family of three – or less, these conditions are the consequence of a purposeful plan, resulting in privilege for few and pervasive poverty for many.

The Robin Hood Tax takes aim at that plan and sets us on a new course– to rebuild this country, reconstitute our communities and bring a real future to our families. A Robin Hood Tax is a sales tax on speculative Wall Street trading.   A small tax, 50 cents per $100 on trading in stocks and even smaller assessments on bonds, derivatives and currencies, Robin Hood could raise $350 billion a year in the U.S.  That’s revenue to concretely counter the deficit-oriented policies bringing this country down and to reorient the nation’s economy away from financial speculation and cash hoarding.  It is the answer to elites’ self-fulfilling prophesy in which they cry out for “confidence” while simultaneously sideline resources critical to national recovery.

There is no time to delay, because austerity and hoarding are lethal.   Nurses continue to see patients all around us reeling from the effects of the greatest economic crisis since The Depression.  The stress of enduring economic hardship is taking a terrible toll, with younger Americans showing up at ERs with heart attacks,  gut disorders and mental illnesses.

There are new reports everyday of Americans having attempted suicide after home foreclosures landed them in shelters, or on the street.  In his new book, The Price of Inequality, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglizt writes: “American has become a country not ‘with justice for all,’ but rather with favoritism for the rich and justice for those who can afford it – so evident in the foreclosure crisis….”  More than 4 million foreclosures have devastated families — another 1.8 million homeowners await this awful fate of being shown their own door. Robin Hood provides revenue to start the healing in a nation worried sick.  We all pay sales tax—on everything from school supplies to clothing and cars.  Why should Wall Street trading be exempt?   In fact, for years it was not.  From 1914-1966, a financial transaction tax was in place.  We need to put it back in place.

Financial institutions can well afford a Robin Hood Tax.  “Too-Big-To-Fail” left finance in fine shape.  The banking industry posted earnings of tens of billions in 2011.  And financial institutions with assets over $10 billion – just 1.4 percent of all banks – accounted for more than 80 percent of growth at the end of last year.  In other words, the mega-banks —  like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America,  recipients of federal bailout money and record-low borrowing rates – are making very substantial profits.  Compensation pools at the seven biggest U.S. banks totaled $156 billion in 2011, a 3.7% increase over the previous year’s record-breaking number. A sales tax seems only fair: a way for Wall Street to return resources to Main Street–  for good jobs, decent schools and quality healthcare for all, for much-needed attention to infrastructure, the environment and to provide secure retirements, and more.  Robin Hood revenue is dedicated to communities, not deficits, and the infusion of capital into America’s neediest locales is long overdue.  Without it we will continue to sink.

The Robin Hood Tax is targeted at high-volume trading—which today constitutes a  majority of all trades-  and is carried out mostly by the largest institutions.  Not only will this tax produce badly-needed revenue in a meaningful amount, it will serve to limit reckless short-term speculation that threatens financial stability and sidelines capital—such as JPMorgan Chase’s notorious bet,  a loss that’s now estimated at $5.8 billion, as well as the kind of turbulence in the markets  witnessed on August 1- “Runaway Trades Spread Turmoil Across Wall St.,” headlined the New York Times.   That speculative activity sets this country back.

“High-frequency trading,” wrote Remapping Debate, “contributes to market volatility and diverts capital that could otherwise be used to boost innovation and invest in companies that create jobs.”  Robin Hood serves to curtail speculation in essentials, like food and fuel, and start lowering these costs.  Billions of dollars have been moved into speculation of commodities since 2006, noted the Guardian. 

Robin Hood Tax funds would also be extended to other nations for their compelling needs, including an international effort for prevention and research in HIV/AIDS.  With a modest increase in funding, scientists predict, AIDS can be eliminated in 30 years.

Two years ago, at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, declared:  “The financial crisis should not be an excuse to flat-line or scale back.  In fact, it is tpan opportunity for new sources of funding, like a levy on global financial transactions – a Robin Hood tax.”  Mr. Sidibe repeated this call for a Robin Hood Tax  at this year’s conference, in Washington, D.C.: “Momentum is growing for a financial transaction tax. …I am repeating my call for a Robin Hood tax—now.”

On July 31,  France became the first country in the European Union to make Robin Hood law, passing a financial transaction tax focused on publicly-traded companies worth over 1 billion Euros.  Several others in the EU – including Germany, Italy and Spain – are expect to join France in a joint tax law, as early as next year.  All told, more than 40 countries have some form of Robin Hood Tax in place.   Let’s not be left behind again.

Jean Ross, RN, is co-president, National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of RNs in the U.S., with 175,000 members. Learn more about the campaign at www.robinhoodtax.org.

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