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Is America Broke? Not With a Robin Hood Tax | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Is America Broke? Not With a Robin Hood Tax

When The Nation published its "People’s Platform" prior to the recent Republican and Democratic conventions, the first plank in the proposal to move our politics in “a more boldly progressive direction” was a call for a Robin Hood Tax.

The People's Platform declared:

Michael Moore was right when he said, ‘America is not broke.’ But America will act like it is as long as politicians of both parties fail to challenge the prevailing view that our resources are insufficient to maintain Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—let alone expand essential programs to meet pressing social needs. Yes, of course it is necessary to rescind the Bush/Cheney tax cuts for the rich. But at a time when so much of our economy involves the rapid trading of financial instruments, it is also time to impose a financial transactions tax on the speculators who caused an economic meltdown that continues to inflict pain here and abroad.

Celebrating the campaign of the National Nurses United union to win support for a “Robin Hood Tax” on every trade to fund social services and rebuild communities, the platform argued that: “Democrats should make this common-sense levy central to their agenda, part of a long-term vision for moving America from a Wall Street–driven casino capitalism to a Main Street–focused caring, clean and green economics.”

That’s what is happening now, as Congressman Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, moves to introduce the most detailed proposal yet for a robust Financial Transaction Tax.

Ellison’s “Inclusive Prosperity Act” would impose a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades. It would also tax trades in bonds, derivatives and currency.

That could add as much as $350 billion a year to the federal treasury, providing vital resources that—in combination with the elimination of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and aggressive moves to prevent the sheltering of assets in tax havens—would make a mockery of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's fantastical claims about fiscal crisis.

“We’re not broke,” Ellison says of the United States. “We’ve got plenty of money. It’s just not in the hands of the American people because the people with so much of the wealth bought lobbyists and influence to get loopholes for themselves so that they would not have to pay for the civilization that is America.”

Along with more constrained proposals by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, the Ellison plan seeks to extract a small amount of the money that speculators now pocket in order to pay for vital public services.

“The money is in the hands of the most privileged and well-to-do Americans, many of whom churn—and I don’t say ‘trade,’ I mean ‘churn’—stocks, bonds and derivatives on Wall Street,” the congressman from Minnesota explained during last week’s Democratic National Convention, when he appeared at a “Progressive Central” event organized by Progressive Democrats of America and supported by many activist groups and The Nation.

“So one of the ways for us as Americans to recoup the money is to tax them when they do this churning of these financial assets,” Ellison continued. “It’s a transaction tax. It is appropriately named by its most vigorous advocates a ‘Robin Hood Tax.’”

National Nurses United, which works with nurses around the world in a global “Robin Hood Tax” campaign, has worked with Ellison to spread the word about renewing the Financial Transactions Tax. (Yes, renewing": during the period of America’s greatest economic growth in the 20th century, the U.S. employed just such a tax.)

“This small tax on Wall Street transactions would raise hundreds of billions of dollars to restore Main Street, tackle dire needs in the US and overseas; in short to support humanity, not austerity,” explains NNU’s Public Policy Director Michael Lighty, who argues that: “This bill represents an exciting step forward to our collective goal of taxing Wall Street to meet the needs of Main Street.”

Ellison says he expects to see significant support for the measure from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But the real progress, he argues, will come as Americans organize to support the measure.

Already, National Nurses United and Progressive Democrats of America have been joined by groups such as the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (the social justice advocacy arm of the Maryknoll Sisters, Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Lay Missioners and Maryknoll Affiliates) are mounting campaigns urging voters to "Ask Your Rep to Sign on toe the Inclusive Prosperity Act."

“I just want you to know that this can happen, if you’ll get behind it,” the congressman told supporters of the Robin Hood Tax. “This is a people’s movement. This is the people’s movement. The people have to play a role in the movement, and if they play that role… We can win it.”

If Ellison is right, then Paul Ryan is wrong.

Because if Congress makes the rich pay their fair share, cracks down of off-shore tax havens and makes taxes the speculators, America is not—and will never be—broke.

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