JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was greeted in Congress Tuesday by nurses and healthcare activists chanting, “Jamie Dimon, you’re no good. The people need a Robin Hood.”
And it wasn’t just in DC but all over the country. Tuesday, June 19, was the formal launch of an NNU-led national campaign for the Robin Hood Tax, and nurses and their allies showed up at branches and offices of JPMorgan Chase in several states summoning the spirit of the thirteenth-century British bandit.
As National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn deMoro explained, “It’s time to pay up for the damage you have done to our communities and our nation.”
It’s an idea whose time has long since come, they say, and there’s no better time to be talking about it than this moment. The Robin Hood tax, or financial transaction tax (also known as the Tobin tax, after the US economist who first proposed a version of it) would impose a levy on financial transactions like sales of stocks, bonds and derivatives. It would take from the rich and generate revenues for poor public services, and stymie reckless speculation—like the gamble that lost JPMorgan that missing $2 billion.
Globally, the tax has won fans from South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Pope Benedict XVI. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Monday that the European Union will “soon” move forward with a financial transaction tax. “We want the financial transaction tax to become a reality in Europe, and if possible at global level,” Barroso said before the start of the G20 summit in Mexico.
Internationally, the Robin Hood tax, or FTT, is largely seen as a possible way to generate development funds for impoverished nations. In the United States, NNU and their allies see the tax as a way to inject needed funds into public services that are already way past breaking point. The NNU cites estimates that the tax could generate as much as $350 billion for public coffers from the Americans most well able to pay: those in the financial sector.
So far, every time there’s been rumor that President Obama’s team might be about to propose such a thing, the Treasury has been quick to deny it. At the G20, the United States has up to now managed to block progress on the topic. Like Britain’s Conservatives (led by PM David Cameron), they argue that taxing the financial sector might be “counterproductive.” For whom? asks NNU.
DeMoro argues, “Compensation pools at the seven biggest US banks totaled $156 billion in 2011, a 3.7% increase over the previous year’s record-breaking number. It is only fair that financial transactions incur a sales tax—just as the rest of us pay—and put some Wall Street resources back into Main Street.”
While a bill introduced last year by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IO) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) would impose a 0.03 percent fee (three cents per $100), the NNU want fifty cents. Why is tax policy a nurse’s issue? A year ago, at the NNU national convention, I talked to RNs who shed tears of exasperation as they described the swollen caseloads they are forced to face on shrunken budgets in hospitals that are generating healthy profits for private corporations.
“No matter how the US supreme court rules in the coming days on the 2010 Affordable Care Act, employers will continue to drop health coverage or shift more costs to workers; medical bills will continue to account for nearly two-thirds of bankruptcies, and insurance companies will still deny needed care,” writes deMoro. “The healthcare crisis has been severely aggravated by the economic collapse. Nurses see the signs in dire human terms, every day.”
For more on the Campaign for a Robin Hood Tax and the support it has elicited from small farmers, religious leaders, AIDS activists and Tom Morello, as well as the NNU, see the campaign’s website.