Occupy Edinburgh Day 14: The Robin Hood Tax

Posted on October 29, 2011


Occupy Edinburgh has grown some more. Far from fizzling out as the weather gets colder, the occupation has flourished. Fully one half of St. Andrew Park is covered in tents. Yet despite the numbers now living there, the site is remarkably well-run. There are maintenance tents as well as pavilions both for serving food and organizing and a garbage site. The park remains well cared for: the grass is still green, healthy and untrampled and there is no litter strewn about. The police, for their part, show no more hostility towards the occupiers than they did on the first day. I haven’t been around to see how the occupation has been run, but clearly something is being done right.

Rallying in front of the Royal Bank of Scotland

Most of the right-wing criticisms of the occupy movement are embarrassingly easy to disarm. The constant refrain of “go get a job”, for example, besides being a complete non-sequitur from the political concerns being raised by the occupations, is also based on a demonstrable falsehood. A recent poll found that 43 percent of Americans agree with the goals of the occupations, while the unemployment rate in the United States is 9.1%. Thus, while the unemployed may be more represented among the actual occupiers, they are expressing a message which seems quite common among those who work hard as well. Meanwhile the “We are the 53%” meme, intended to portray the occupiers as lazy entitled leaches through demonstration of its’ detractors’ bootstrappyness has been effectively disarmed, and the tired old trickle-down argument being used to suggest that the interests of the 1% are the same as those of the 99% just gets more and more refuted every year.

Despite the general failure of the right to slow down the momentum of the occupations, however, the criticism of aimlessness, coming from all sides of the political spectrum, has stuck. The broad reach of the movement has made it difficult to define, and therefore for the last month since the movement began it has appeared somewhat aimless. Whether this is the fault of an uncritical media, an aggressive right-wing attack, or the disorganization of the occupiers themselves is difficult to tell, but the good news is that any plausibility for that accusation ended today, when occupations all over the world issued their first official demand for a Robin Hood Tax. If you haven’t heard of the proposed Robin Hood Tax before, you should know that it’s a great idea that you should support. A tiny 0.05% tax on all international financial transactions could raise over 20 billion pounds annually in the UK alone, while simultaneously discouraging excessive financial speculation.

The Robin Hood Tax is not a new idea, but it is uniquely compatible with the Occupy movement because it is a global measure, best implemented on the global level. There would be little reason for any individual nation to implement the Robin Hood Tax, because bankers would simply respond by avoiding that country. So the tax would be best implemented en masse by an international agreement at the G20. Conveniently, there is a G20 summit coming up next weekend in Cannes, France, and there is an increasingly powerful and internationally connected political movement that has just issued some direct and specific policy advice. It is therefore encouraging to see Occupations all over the world advocating the adoption of a Robin Hood tax at the G20.

This is the real strength of the Occupations. The global interconnectedness and high visibility means that the Occupiers have the ability to influence not just national governments but global financial policy. This is good, because the actions of a single country are no longer sufficient. In a globalized economy, there needs to be a globalized set of regulations in place that protects society from the excesses of the system. That calls for a global movement. The occupations, regardless of the financial and political situation in their home countries, are uniquely capable of accomplishing this urgent task.

The Robin Hood Tax is just the beginning. We shouldn’t stop there. The movement has moved into its next phase, in which it makes specific policy suggestions to be implemented on the global scale. I think we should come up with a few more.

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