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Robin Hood Goes To Capitol Hill

Will Congress get serious about taxing financial transactions?

BY Sarah Cobarrubias

The bill calls for a 0.5 percent tax on all stock trades. Advocates estimate that such a tax could generate up to $350 billion in annual revenue.

Take from the rich, give to the poor. The legendary robber’s credo found new expression in U.S. law on September 14, when Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced the “Robin Hood tax” bill. Formally known as the Inclusive Prosperity Act, it proposes a small financial transaction tax on Wall Street to ease the economic burden on the rest of us—a measure that has the backing of economists such as Paul Krugman.

The bill calls for a 0.5 percent tax on all stock trades. Advocates estimate that such a tax could generate up to $350 billion in annual revenue. The bill specifies that this money go toward education, job training, Medicare, Medicaid and housing assistance. On a global level, it will contribute to HIV/AIDS treatment and research.

The Robin Hood Tax Campaign has rallied community activists across the nation who work on issues as diverse as healthcare, labor, the environment, faith, HIV/AIDS and consumer protection. National Nurses United (NNU) has been at the forefront of the movement. NNU spokesperson Charles Idelson says that nurses began to realize the country needed a “comprehensive solution to reframe and reignite our economy … when they were seeing more and more patients with problems in direct correlation to the economic crisis—poor nutrition, job loss, inadequate housing, out-of- pocket costs—and they were seeing this in their own families, too.”

Fittingly, the bill was introduced one day before the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Along with providing a safety net for poor and middle-class families, the tax could help rein in the rampant speculation that catalyzed the Great Recession, by forcing traders to weigh the cost of each transaction.

The Robin Hood tax isn’t actually new—a levy on the transfer or sale of stocks was in place for more than five decades during the early 20th century, a period of thriving economic growth. France just implemented its own financial transaction tax in August, and Spain and Germany are poised to do the same thanks to pressure from a growing global movement. Idelson predicts that the movement will “probably be Eurozone-wide within a matter of months.”

It remains to be seen whether the bill can pass in a largely hostile Congress that feeds from the hand of the financial industry. Currently, there are only 10 cosponsors. But Idelson takes a long-term view of the campaign, asserting that “the pressure will continue to rise … we are optimistic that the bill will move forward, gain more supporters and will one day become a reality in the U.S.”

 

 

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