The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, writes: Many people are frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of global capitalism; but it isn’t easy to say what we should do differently. It istime we tried to be more specific.
There is help to be had from a bold statement on our financial situation emerging last week from the Vatican. This document, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is entitled ‘Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority‘. It contains, with sharp critical analysis, a rather utopian vision of global regulation. But, more important, it offers recommendations that seek not to change everything at once but to minimise the damage of certain practices and assumptions.
One is something we have now heard clearly from many sources – a plea endorsed by the Vickers Commission that routine banking business should be clearly separated from speculative transactions. The rolling-up of individual and small-scale savings into high-risk and high-return adventures in the virtual economy is one of the more obvious danger areas. Early government action in this area is needed. A second plea is to recapitalise banks with public money. Banks should be obliged in return to help reinvigorate the real economy.
The third suggestion is probably the most far-reaching. The Vatican statement strongly backs the proposal of a Financial Transaction Tax – a “Tobin Tax” or, popularly, a “Robin Hood Tax” in the form in which it has been talked about most recently. This means a comparatively small rate of tax (0.05 per cent) being levied on share, bond, and currency transactions and their derivatives, with the resulting funds being designated for investment in the “real” economy, domestically and internationally. The modest rate of taxation conceals the high levels of return that could be expected (some $410bn globally on one estimate).
This has won the backing of significant experts who cannot be written off as naive anti-capitalists – George Soros, Bill Gates and many others. It is gaining traction among European nations, with a strong statement in support this week from Wolfgang Schaüble, the German finance minister. The objections made by some who claim it would mean a substantial drop in employment and in the economy generally seem to rest on exaggerated and sharply challenged projections – and, more important, ignore the potential of such a tax to stabilise currency markets in a way to boost rather than damage the real economy.