The Robin Hood tax

The New York Times reports: They call it the Robin Hood tax — a tiny levy on trades in the financial markets that would take money from the banks and give it to the world’s poor.

And like the mythical hero of Sherwood Forest, it is beginning to capture the public’s imagination.

Driven by populist anger at bankers as well as government needs for more revenue, the idea of a tax on trades of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments has attracted an array of influential champions, including the leaders of France and Germany, the billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and George Soros, former Vice President Al Gore, the consumer activist Ralph Nader, Pope Benedict XVI and the archbishop of Canterbury.

“We all agree that a financial transaction tax would be the right signal to show that we have understood that financial markets have to contribute their share to the recovery of economies,” the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, told her Parliament recently.

On Sunday, Mario Monti, the new prime minister of Italy, announced plans to impose a tax on certain financial transactions as part of a far-reaching plan to fix his country’s budgetary problems, and he endorsed the idea of a Europewide transactions tax.

So far, the broader debt crisis engulfing the euro zone nations has pushed discussion of the tax into the background. But if European leaders can agree on a plan that calms the financial markets, they would be in a stronger position to enact a levy, analysts said.

“There is some momentum behind this,” said Simon Tilford, chief economist of the Center for European Reform in London. “If they keep the show on the road, they probably will attempt to run with this.”

The Robin Hood tax has also become a rallying point for labor unions, nongovernmental organizations and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which view it as a way to claw back money from the top 1 percent to help the other 99 percent. Last month, thousands of demonstrators, including hundreds in Robin Hood outfits with bright green caps and bows and arrows, flooded into southern France to urge the leaders of the Group of 20 nations to do more to help the poor, including passing a financial transactions tax.

Enacting such a tax still faces many hurdles, however — most notably, skepticism from leaders in the United States and Britain, home to some of the world’s most important financial exchanges.

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