Robin Hood to Ban Ki-moon: I can show you the money!

Robin Hood to Ban Ki-moon: I can show you the money!

Robin Hood to Ban Ki-moon: I can show you the money!

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Among the surging crowds of hundreds of thousands of folks at the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York, you will see marchers in pointy green felt hats, and if you are lucky, a fully garbed Robin Hood replete with green tights, leather vest and that signature gleam in the eye. (For better or worse, the NYPD and the march organizers have asked that bows and arrows be left at the guild hall.)

Why, you ask, should this much beloved hero, famed for taking from the rich what they stole from the poor, put in an appearance at an historic climate mobilization? (Hint: It’s not just because his beloved Sherwood Forest is on the chopping block.) It’s because a Robin Hood Tax — also known as a financial transaction tax, or a tax on Wall Street — is an important part of the strategy for dealing with the climate crisis.

Addressing the climate crisis, and the social inequity that is both a cause and a symptom of this great threat, will require deep cuts in climate pollution as well as large troves of money. In particular, there must be a massive transfer of resources from the global north (the rich) to the global south (the poor).

Poorer countries have done little, and in some cases nothing at all, to cause this crisis. Yet they are the ones left footing a very expensive bill to deal with its fallout — a bill paid not only in money, but in lives lost and livelihoods destroyed. And, of course, it is these same countries — and the farmers, fisherfolk, urban poor, children and others who make up the vast majority of their populations – that have the least capacity to pay this exorbitant bill. So who has the capacity and responsibility to pick up the tab?

Wall Street banks, and the U.S. government (that has time and again bailed out these banks), that’s who. Under the UN Climate Convention, rich countries have both a moral and legal obligation to provide this money, called “climate finance.” But they don’t want to pay up.

Instead, the U.S. and other rich nations are shifting attention away from themselves by waxing poetic about “mobilizing private finance.” Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is placing a strong emphasis on private finance at his Climate Summit. “Mobilizing private finance” means redirecting Wall Street money towards climate-friendly (and of course for Wall Street, profitable) investments. And while Wall Street indeed needs to divest from climate-destroying industries and invest in restorative ones, we still can’t let the poorest people on the planet pay the proverbial climate bill.

The only just way to go about this is for rich countries to pay, even though they claim to be broke. But public money can easily be found. How?  Simple: put a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street!  As hundreds of thousands of us march on the streets of Manhattan on September 21, we should bear in mind that the city is sitting on a virtual gold mine of untapped public money incubating right downtown on Wall Street.

The Robin Hood Tax is a tiny tax on trades of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments that would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of new revenue. It is not actually a tax on the wealthy, but a tax on spurious wealth creation. As Robin Hood says, “It’s not a tax on the people; it’s a tax for the people.” And it would generate public money that’s desperately needed to help ordinary people around the world deal with increasingly frequent extreme weather events that wreak havoc on agriculture, food security, public health, infrastructure, transportation, livelihoods and lives.

Eleven European countries, including Germany, are establishing a regional Robin Hood Tax. France, a member of that coalition, already has a Robin Hood Tax that generates revenue used, in part, to help developing countries address climate change.

It’s past time for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Wall Street has made out like a bandit for far too long, and we need Robin Hood to set it right. While we see cuts in education, healthcare and environmental protection — and increases in poverty — Wall Street bankers continue to reap big profits and fat cat bonuses. By making Wall Street pay its fair share, the Robin Hood Tax can help shore up funding for goods and services that keep people and our communities healthy and whole, at home and around the world.

Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has introduced a legislative vehicle to help get the job done — the Inclusive Prosperity Act, H.R. 1579. It will be a heavy lift and a long road to get a bill like this past the slick Wall Street lobbyists and other heavily monied interests in Congress, but it can be done. Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman, James Tobin and Joseph Stiglitz are for it. Business people Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffet are for it. The Pope is for it. But to move the idea in Congress, we’ll need to show that people are overwhelmingly for it. The Robin Hood Tax contingent at the People’s Climate March is an important step in that direction.

So, come September 21, put on your green tights and your felt hat and join our merry band on the streets of New York. We’ll be holding a Robin Hood Tax rally to kick off the march, replete with Robin Hood(s) and stops at Big Banks. We’ll assemble at 10 AM at the corner of W. 58th and Broadway. For more information, please write to [email protected].

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