Nurses Join Ralph Nader for Debating Taboos Event

By Donna Smith

While many – far too many – politicians in Washington are fixated on making cuts in our most vital programs that protect American families while refusing to demand those who created our economic freefall pay up to help rebuild this nation, at least some have a broader vision.

Leave it to Ralph Nader, consummate challenger of taboo political issues and agendas, to host a debate with the unspeakable suggestion that Wall Street pay for the damage done to Main Street America.  And leave it to the nurses to come from all over the country to be a part of the second session of Nader’s events that highlighted one of the main pillars of their Main Street Contract campaign – a financial transaction tax.

Nader spent the first 15 minutes or so introducing his debaters and moderators.  Nurses packed the front rows and had traveled from Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and DC to hear the pros and cons of a financial transaction tax.  CSPAN was there to record the debate, and two classes full of graduate students filed into the auditorium of the Carnegie Institute to witness the debate.

Moderator and economist Dean Baker and debater and professor of economics Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst argued on the affirmative side in the debate titled, “Securities Transactions Tax: Bring It Back of Leave It Out,” while moderator and Vanguard investment officer George Sauter and debater and professor James Angel of Georgetown University stood in  opposition.  

Up until 40 years ago, the United States did have a transaction tax. But in more recent decades the U.S. has gone through not only the loss of that revenue source but also the deregulation of the financial industry in general.  

Pollin argued that the implementation of an appropriate and well- designed transaction tax on speculative Wall Street activity would help generate more than enough revenue to be available for a variety of needs. For example,  to retire the billions in dollars of budgets short falls of all the states in the nation combined – and thereby protect the states from making the disastrous cuts to education, healthcare and other services underway at this time.  

Sauter countered with some of the same old scare tactics about raising taxes and how those taxes would be passed along to consumers – and not paid by those FTT proponents hoped to target.

For the next couple of hours, the audience learned about the ins and outs of the FTT from the perspectives of experts – but the nurses remained clear in their vision.  They learned that in every one of the 10 fastest growing financial markets in the world, there is a financial transaction tax similar to the one the nurses support.  

So the fears about the damage that will be done to the US financial markets if a tax is implemented were effectively countered. Great Britain is one of the many countries with an FTT, and the London Stock Exchange, the largest in Europe, in fact has continued to grow. It’s also tough for the traders to evade. In Britain, if you do not pay the tax, you do not get title to securities

Pollin noted that John Fogel, founder of the trillion dollar Vanguard Fund said that an FTT was important to slow excess speculation and to raise revenue, and there’s a lot to draw from. There has been a 400 percent growth in speculative activity the past decade, and banks, a primary target of an FTT, are still holding $500 billion in taxpayer bailout funds.

Just as nurses must watch, listen and assess their patients at the bedside, nurses have watched the damage in their families, their communities and in the nation.  As the fine academic point and policy subtleties were debated, their assessment remained. Those who created the financial crisis on Main Street in America through financial speculation and profiting off wildly risky investments while at the same time taking advantage of untaxed wealth and revenue to lead lavish lifestyles should pay their fair share  to correct the damage, rebuild our Main Streets and revitalize the economy for all.

Following the debate, debate attendees headed to Capitol Hill for an afternoon of visits with Congressional members to reinforce the message: the nation cannot rely on protecting the few while failing the many.  With a fair financial transaction tax, the nurses believe the nation can finally begin to close the chapter on a decades-long period of decline for average Americans and look forward to healing our communities.