With Congress about to begin the next cycle of budget battles – mostly focused on how much more pain to inflict on Main Street communities across America – a far different message is bubbling up across the land.
Activists from across the land gathered in Washington October 29 to step up what has become an increasingly vocal demand for a change of priorities and tone – with a call to expand the revenue pie with a tax on Wall Street speculation, the Robin Hood tax.
“The fire in this room will light up the sky for a lot of people,” said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union surveying the room in the closing session of an action conference for the Robin Hood Tax campaign.
“We have a revenue crisis, and we know where the money is, it’s on Wall Street.” –George Goehl, National People’s Action
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.
Or as Hanley put it, “There’s been a 40 year crime wave and we’ve been the victims.”
Much of the impetus of the campaign for the Wall Street tax has come from National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses, who have sponsored marches and rallies for the Robin Hood movement and were among the major organizers of the latest conference. “Nurses come with the perspective of humanists who don’t give up on patients,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.
“Nurses see the fallout of the wretched economic policy in the U.S. and globally and see people who have run out of solutions. We see a community responding to our message, who understand what matters is what pressure we put on” the policy makers, said DeMoro, and the demand “for allocation of funding of programs that make up a society, not the priorities that the corporations set.”
As the conference opened Jennifer Flynn, managing director of Health GAP, discussed what the Robin Hood tax, as embodied in a U.S. bill, HR 1579, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, could mean.
“With $6 billion a year, we can end the AIDS pandemic within the next 30 years. With $50 billion we can create the largest job program ever. With less than $3 billion we can end homelessness. With less than $10 billion we can reverse many of the effects of climate change. With less than $100 billion we can provide healthcare for all in most parts of the world. With $60 billion we can transform our education system. That would still leave more than $200 billion for other needs that would be raised by HR 1579.”
“It’s our job to put the Wall Street tax at the center of American politics... Those who say it can’t be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” –Jim Hightower
The Robin Hood tax, said Bobby Tolbert of Vocal New York, “is a way to bring power back to the 99 percent. The Robin Hood tax is inevitable, it’s just a matter of time.”
“We have a revenue crisis, and we know where the money is, it’s on Wall Street,” said George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action. “We’re going to ask the politicians are you going to stand with Wall Street or Main Street?”
The conference itself was a prelude to a briefing for Congress with leaders of the coalition, renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, and the vice president of the European Parliament Anni Podimata, who will describe how 11 European nations are successfully implementing a similar tax. The briefing is to be held October 31, after which the activists intend to fan out on Capitol Hill to press legislators from 26 states to support the bill.
The activists will also unveil a new letter 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.
One of those economists, Robert Pollin, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, explained to the conference that “the basic idea is a tax on every financial transaction, the equivalent of a sales tax. Who pays the tax? The people who make trades every day on Wall Street.”
“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.
Sachs, also addressing the conference, cited polls showing 60 to 70 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the wealthy, and “making the banks pay for what they did” in crashing the economy. Sachs, who is campaigning for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria noted that $5 billion invested in that effort “would save millions of lives,” and we know “where to find it.”
The 40 top hedge fund managers “took in $16.7 billion in pay last year, and the top tax rate they pay is just 15 percent.” That’s one target group for the Robin Hood tax, he noted. “We need these people to pay their fair share of taxes and their fair share of jail time,” Sachs said.
Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, cited a series of alarming signs of the ravages of the climate crisis, such as 180 communities in Alaska sinking into the water. “Climate change is affecting the air we breathe, the food we eat, the places we live, that's why Friends of the Earth wants the Robin Hood tax.”
Amirah Sequeira of the Student AIDS campaign noted that “this tax could mean eliminating the crushing student debt we're currently facing.”
“It’s our job to put the Wall Street tax at the center of American politics,” said former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. “Those who say it can’t be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
DeMoro called the tax a “non-reformist reform,” which Pollin noted would establish “a whole new way” of determining economic policy. “It’s not just Wall Street who will decide if we have revenue for a green economy or education. We can’t just let Wall Street make all those decisions.”
“It’s up to us," DeMoro concluded, “to build a movement that changes society.”