An almost invisibly small amount is shaved off each one of millions of transactions in the global banking system. No-one involved in the transactions has any cause to notice, but the aggregated half-pennies create a fund big enough to change the world.
I speak, of course, of the 1983 film Superman III.
But what if those fractions were employed not in the service of Robert Vaughan’s ill-defined global dominance ambitions but instead split between the defence of public services, the fight against poverty and the mission to halt global warming? That would be the Robin Hood Tax.
If you are familiar with Richard Pryor’s masterplan in the aforementioned cinematic triumph, you will not find the Robin Hood Tax difficult to understand. Quite simply, it is a 0.05% tax on financial transactions not involving members of the public – 50p per £1000. The biggest contribution would be from high-finance instruments such as the repackaged sub-prime mortgages that kicked off the credit crunch, with another big pot coming from currency speculation deals.
If you’re still unsure, and you haven’t got time to watch Superman III, well you’re missing out. But here’s Bill Nighy to (try not to) explain in a touch over three minutes. NB this film comes with a SNOW PATROL WARNING.
The Robin Hood Tax, in a variety of incarnations including Tobin Tax and financial transaction tax, has been around as an idea for decades but its current burst of momentum began inauspiciously with Gordon Brown driving the idea into a brick wall of American indifference in St Andrews in November. Brown was criticised even by supporters of the tax for failing to lay any groundwork and showing up in Fife with an announcement doomed to failure.
But the exponential success of the Robin Hood Tax campaign – which topped UK trending topics on Twitter for most of yesterday, no doubt baffling the 25,000 followers of @ThePaulDaniels – might be seen to vindicate the PM’s strategy. He undoubtedly planted the seed of the issue on the international agenda, and given enough time it is now approaching a critical mass of support.
The level of enthusiasm for what might have been thought of as a relatively technical topic is a pleasant surprise. But I think it’s understandable. For two years now we have uncovered more and more evidence of the financial industry’s irresponsibility and almost sociopathic self-centeredness, all the while living its effects as unemployment rises and high streets wither.
We have tried to take our frustration out on bonuses but most of us deep down know that these are just a peripheral symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. We had no reason to believe that attacking Fred Goodwin’s pension, as good as it felt, would actually prevent global financial recidivism.
But now we are presented with a radical but practical solution that will not only act as a well-deserved punishment for the financiers but much more importantly make them deliver what it is their job to deliver – human welfare and prosperity – rather than the profit illusion and toxic reality that have been their products up till now. How could we not be relieved? How could we not demand that our critically-ill economy gets this breakthrough medicine right now?
This is that rare thing – a campaign that could change the world overnight and yet one that we can win. If you want to support it you can:
- Sign up at robinhoodtax.org.uk
- Post the video on your blog Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and, if you are under 14 or on a register, Bebo.
- Email your MSPs and ask them to sign Patrick Harvie’s Scottish Parliament motion supporting the Robin Hood Tax. Email your MP and ask them to table a similar motion in the Commons.
This campaign is emblematic of the battle for the soul of the economy. There has been a storm but we are still the wealthiest society that has ever existed on a planet of indecent riches. We can have plenty for everyone, or we can have swimming pools of gold for the super-rich.
A straight conflict of interest. But there are more of us than them. That’s their kryptonite.