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Robin Hood tax gains ground at the G-20

Capital Times, 11/9/11

By: Mary Bottari
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The G-20 meeting in Cannes got under way last week. The sunny beach resort, playground to movie stars and media moguls, was an odd choice for a somber meeting. As President Obama touched down in Air Force One, the Greek government was on the verge of collapse, austerity was sweeping Europe and the future of the Eurozone was in doubt.

But the first day of talks offered a ray of hope for the global economy. For the first time, the 20 most powerful countries in the world sat down to discuss applying a small tax to high-speed, high-volume stock market trading. And for the first time, the U.S. blinked.

President Sarkozy of France has long championed a small sales tax on stock and derivatives trading, which has the potential for generating billions in revenue. “At a time when states are making remarkable efforts to restore their public finances ... how can the financial sector triumphantly continue to march, indifferent to the world around it, without a care for the disorder it has more than its share in causing?” Sarkozy said. EU member countries are moving forward to implement such a tax next year.

Ron Suskind revealed in his new book, “Confidence Men,” that President Obama thought the tax was a no-brainer right after the banks collapsed the global economy — until his economic team told him otherwise.

Behind the scenes, the “opponent in chief” has been Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who has protected his friends on Wall Street by privately characterizing the tax as unworkable, easy to evade and not likely to bring in much income. Geithner doesn’t just oppose the tax for the U.S., he has opposed the tax in the context of the G-20, slapping down British Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he proposed it in 2009.

Now the White House appears to be changing its tune. Reuters reported that the U.S. government backed down from its long-standing opposition to the tax at the G-20 meeting. The U.S. is still opposed to the idea in principle, but would not try to block other countries from going ahead.

Panicked at this change in tune, the Wall Street Journal editorial board wasted no time, savagely attacking the idea and calling on Geithner for help.

The news reports hit the wire almost at the exact same moment that thousands of nurses took the fight for a fairer economy right to Geithner’s doorstep with a rally at the Treasury Department. Signs read “An Economy for the 99%” and “Tax Timmy’s Friends.” Nurses and other groups are fed up with Geithner’s habit of deep-sixing every action that might hold the big banks accountable for the meltdown of the global economy.

“It is long past time for Secretary Geithner and President Obama to get on board with other world leaders in supporting this common-sense approach to raise badly needed revenues to help fund the critical programs we need to revive the U.S. and other global economies,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro, who traveled to Cannes to rally with nurses from around the world.

The nurses are not alone. The tax has a growing and diverse list of supporters, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the pope, Warren Buffett, Joseph Stiglitz and hundreds of groups in the U.S., including Americans for Financial Reform, AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, Oxfam, Public Citizen, and National People’s Action. The Occupy Wall Street crowd has embraced it as well.

While the domestic implementation of the tax faces continued opposition from Congress and Geithner, Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin introduced a modest version of the tax last week in an effort to counter the “cut, cut, cut” mentality of the deficit “supercommittee.” While the big banks on Wall Street will work hard to convince Congress that even a tiny tax would result in the immediate collapse of the economy and that grannie would be hardest hit, the facts are that the modest fee proposed in this legislation is minuscule in comparison even to the management fees applied by some mutual funds.

The idea has powerful allies and a simple common-sense appeal. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka puts it: “It is time to put Wall Street to work rebuilding Main Street with a financial speculation tax to create jobs, rein in speculation and lay the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity.”

Mary Bottari is the director of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the site for bank-busting activists. This column first appeared on CMD’s PRWatch.

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