Robin Hood and his merry band of economic justice campaigners came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday looking to drum up support among lawmakers for their most contemporary economic policy proposal: a financial transaction tax.
Calls for a so-called 'Robin Hood tax' have grown internationally and exponentially in the years since the 2008 financial collapse and economists and social justice campaigners have explained how a financial transaction tax, or FTT, could stabilize the economy by placing an infinitesimal tax on Wall Street trades and speculation in order to disincentivize high-speed trading while generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue to fund education, alleviate poverty, battle persistent health problems, and assist the move to a more sustainable energy economy.
On Wednesday—backed by economists and a broad coalition of unionized nurses, economic justice groups, environmentalists, and sympathetic lawmakers—the Robin Hood Tax Campaign went door to door in the halls of Congress to deliver their message.
“With the latest Congressional super committee on budget deliberations [meeting] in the aftermath of the brinkmanship over federal funding, a change in tone is needed in Washington,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of National Nurses United. “We are calling on Congress and the White House to refocus on a human needs budget, not just an endless cycle of more austerity and more cuts. We need the Robin Hood tax.”
In a commentary published by Common Dreams on Wednesday, Higgins added:
For the past two years, a movement has been building in the U.S., now endorsed by more than 160 local and national organizations who are calling for a sharp turn away from policies of austerity and more budget cuts with a financial transaction tax on stocks, bonds, derivatives and other financial instruments, paid by those very same banks, investment houses, hedge fund managers, and Wall Street traders who created the latest financial crisis.
Higgins also quoted Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, who said the reason he and his members support the tax is to restore equity and justice to the U.S. economy. “There’s been a 40 year crime wave and [workers have] been the victims,” he said.
As Michael Hiltzik recently explained in the Los Angeles Times:
Think of the financial transaction tax as a stone that kills two birds: It raises money, and it takes froth out of the market. Wall Street has escaped paying the bill for the damage it did to the economy in 2008. The U.S. taxpayer bailed out the financial sector to the tune of more than $700 billion; despite that, the big Wall Street trading firms and banks continue to flout the law, continue to overpay their executives and traders, and continue to squeeze mortgage borrowers and small businesses alike. This is a way to start getting repaid.
Robert Pollin, director of the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass Amherst, is one of the many economists who support the bill, HR 1579 (the Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2013), put forward by Congressman Keith Ellison, which would implement the FTT.
“With the financial transaction tax we can raise the revenue we need and discourage excessive speculation on Wall Street. It’s being done in the world’s second largest financial market, London and the fastest growing security markets in the world, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Russia. If they can do it, so can we,” Pollin said.
The Robin Hood Tax coalition hosted a two-day conference ahead of their lobbying blitz and Wednesday's panel discussion on Ellison's proposal is available to watch here:
The Robin Hood activists also unveiled a new letter on Wednesday, signed by 163 well known economists and financial experts, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland College Park, and Thomas Palley of the Economic Policy Institute supporting HR 1579. The letter and list of signatories follows:
Putting the Robin Hood push in the context of the new budget talks, which resumed Wednesday, and framing the call for the FTT against the push for deeper austerity cuts by Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan, The Nation's John Nichols reported:
Arguing for a Financial Transactions Tax does not only have the potential to shift the character of the budget conference committee deliberations. It could move the broader debate beyond the empty wrangling that pits Ryan’s austerity agenda against the austerity-lite response of too many Democrats.
“It’s far past time that we break this cycle and fund America. There is a simple solution: more revenue,” explains National People’s Action executive director George Goehl. “If the government had more money we could break the crisis fever that is killing our economic recovery and devastating most those who can afford it least.”
The Robin Hood Tax campaigners documented their day on Capitol Hill with a fast-moving Twitter feed: