Last week, nurses rallied, bank staff marched, conservatives coalesced and finance professionals petitioned—all in support of a global tax on Wall Street speculation. You wouldn’t know it from the headlines (Financial Times: “Push for EU-wide ‘Robin Hood Tax’ ends”), but by week’s end, that elusive goal was closer than ever.
“We don’t just advocate for people when they’re ill, and we don’t just advocate for them when they’re in the hospital,” says Jean Ross, a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union. “We have to have a society where they can get well and stay well.”
As I’ve written before, the financial transaction tax (FTT) is a good idea whose time has come. By assessing a modest fee on transactions, we can raise revenue from those who can afford it while discouraging the unproductive speculation that puts our economy at risk. And frankly, Wall Street owes us. The tax offers an antidote to austerity and a rallying cry that hard-core occupiers, Democratic senators, and reality-based conservatives can all get behind.
Consider the coalition of European Union countries backing the tax, led by new French Socialist President François Hollande and German conservative Angela Merkel. “We are behind where the state of the debate is in Europe,” says Sarah Anderson, who directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Though European conservatives peddle austerity, says Anderson, they have “more of a clear understanding that governments need to raise revenue, and that this is a practical way to do it right now, when there’s such a crushing need.” While media reports have focused on the majority of EU countries that didn’t get behind the FTT at last week’s European Commission meeting, Anderson says proponents’ immediate goal was always to pull together enough countries for what the EU calls “enhanced cooperation.” They needed at least nine nations; they now have ten. Anderson expects successful implementation and new revenue in those countries will shift the debate for the holdouts, including the UK and the USA.
Anderson says some European officials were moved by support she helped corral from a perhaps-unexpected source: financial professionals. On Thursday, fifty-two of them released a letter endorsing an FTT. The signers range from former heads of European banks to former managing directors of JPMorgan. They wrote that the “primary role of financial markets is to raise investment, allocate resources efficiently, and mitigate risk. However, much of today’s financial activity does not contribute to these goals” and will actually “drain liquidity in stressed markets when it is needed most.” By discouraging such transactions, “a modest transaction tax will actually improve the functioning of markets.”