Is it useful? Is it necessary? Is it just?
I feel the need to note that I know very little about the practical side of this concept. These are simply my own predictions, projections, fears and solutions for an idea that I feel has the capacity for a lot of good, yet the capacity for a lot of exploitation.
The concept is fuelled by a lot of highly-charged emotions, as well as charitable logic. ‘The banks’, as they are often referred to, threatened and compromised the world economy, and this tax is seen as a suitable and productive punishment. The idea is to take a small cut of international bank business transactions – 0.05% – and use it to create a charitable fund of money. The earning projections range from the conservative of £20 billion per year to the optimistic £200 billion. What I’m concerned about is whether this will work and if it works, the safeguards that need establishing to prevent abuse.
Bankers are, on the whole, clever people. They pay accountants thousands, and this is just on a personal level, of pounds to exploit tax loopholes and the like so that they can keep more of their money. If the tax has any loopholes then they will be exploited mercilessly. For the Robin Hood tax to be effective, it needs to have power behind it. This power needs to be fuelled by an Act of Parliament. An elicited promise from the banks to adhere to the tax will 1) not be forthcoming and 2) very loosely binding, if at all. An Act of Parliament would not only give power to the tax, it would also give it legitimacy. The MPs in the Commons are, after all, representing the people of the country.
Such an Act would be impotent if not properly drafted or enforced. What the people behind it could do is draft their proposed Act beforehand. Parliament would have no obligation to copy it verbatim, but this would give them a guide to what the proposition wants. Hopefully this proposed Act would be checked carefully for loopholes. As the proposition are the ones with the most motivation to avoid loopholes, their proposed Act would be as watertight as possible.
It is likely that the banks would have to declare their profits and, from that, their tax would be determined. The banks would have powerful incentives to conceal earnings. To solve this, I can think of a minimum of three measures: incentives, harsh punitive measures and transparency.
If there are incentives to declaring and paying the tax, then the banks will be more likely to do so. I can imagine a system where the business and the taxman sit down and work out the likely amount that will have to be paid in the next year. The business is allowed to pay upfront, or is bound to pay that exact amount, with a slight reduction (for ‘good behaviour’). This allows businesses to save money if they have a sudden surge in transactions, as they only have to pay that set amount for the entire year. If there is a drop in transactions, however, they would be forced to pay more than necessary. For some this would be seen as an acceptable risk.
Because every bank in the country would be forced to take part in the Robin Hood tax, there would be a tremendous public relations incentive to comply. Yet many banks and businesses aggressively advertise the fact that they participate in charitable ventures. With the Robin Hood tax in place, this wouldn’t be anything special to boast about. If there were a ranking system in place, companies could vie for a position of ‘most charitable’ still. At the bottom would be businesses that conform to the bare minimum – the 0.05%. Then, taking into account money, time and resources spent on charitable causes, the Robin Hood fund could either rank businesses or award them a title of ‘Super-charitable business’ (they can come up with the slogan, I just hope you catch my drift).
The government will have a huge role in making this happen and making it work. So incentives for them might not be a bad idea. The government already spends money on the provision of public services. If a chunk of the Robin Hood fund went to the government to finance public services (I always think of swimming pools when I think about ‘provision of public services’) then they would be free to use tax money in different areas. Hopefully not on MP expenses. This shifts part of the burden of public services from the ‘general’ taxpayer to the ‘corporate’ taxpayer. The effect of this might be consititutionally profound – in effect shrinking state responsibilities to the person. This is something I approve of, but raises a debate beyond the scope of this essay.
The Robin Hood tax is, in itself, a punitive measure. So if businesses and banks don’t conform to the tax, they aren’t being punished. In reality they would conform to some extent, but total conformity is what the tax would require. If we’re satisfied that this base level of punishment is justified, then we could put another form of punishment on top, for those who don’t conform to the tax. Perhaps increasing the percentage cut on their transactions, say doubling it to 0.1% for persistent or gross offences. Such an action may cause outrage, or the threat of it may ensure that less people try to cheat the system.
Transparency – for both the banks and the Robin Hood fund. We’d need transparent financial transactions in order to determine whether the banks are paying the proper percentage. Trusting the banks would be an odd way of imposing this tax, taking into account all the trust they’ve already lost in the public eye. Government, Robin Hood fund, and business audits should take place and compare their findings.
Yet transparency should also be applied to the Robin Hood fund. The administrators of the fund are going to be sitting on a huge (figurative) pile of gold. There need to be safeguards to make sure that this money isn’t abused and squandered. There also need to be accountable systems to work out where and who the money goes to. It’s fine if I control the fund and say that the money’s going to charity, but what if the charity I’m awarding the money to is called ‘Save the Theos’, and the primary beneficiary is me? Without a method of limiting how these decisions are made and making the movement of the money from the fund transparent, this could happen. And if I were in charge, it probably would.
As I have said, many businesses already fund charitable ventures. If not from the goodness of their (corporate) hearts, then for tax benefits. If a charitable tax is levied, this may result in businesses dropping all their other, voluntary, ventures. I don’t know the extent to which charities are funded by businesses, but my estimate would be ‘a lot’. If this funding was pulled, the Robin Hood fund might have to be used to pay these ‘wronged’ charities. After all, taking money from one charity and giving it to another isn’t exactly the Robin Hood way. That’s tantamount to stealing from the poor to give to the poor. If the fund became large enough that payment to these charities was only a dip in the ocean then it is justifiable. Yet if the levied amount isn’t much more than the amount already being given to charities, it would force us to acknowledge that maybe this tax isn’t necessary.
If a tax is placed on all financial transactions by UK banks, it might deter foreign actors. If they know that our banks are losing a small percentage, they may not do business because they: 1) are suspicious that the UK organisation is charging more as a result of loss through the tax and 2) want to see UK businesses take a financial hit, so to prove that the Robin Hood tax doesn’t work and discourage it from being passed in their home country.
Where to go from here?
If the Robin Hood tax goes forward, will it spread beyond our borders? If enough countries enact a similar system I can see great, possibly limitless potential. World hunger, poverty, disease… There’s the chance to make a huge dent in all of these problems, as well as the more local and less obvious charitable issues. With the problems noted, this will be a difficult bill to pass. But if it succeeds, the UK may well become seen as a flagship for global social change.
I have a peculiar addiction to eavesdropping. I love sitting quietly in public places and letting the conversations of others wash over me. It’s fairly non-invasive and even if it was, I wouldn’t stop doing it. I enjoy it. Today I was kicking back and listening and I heard a conversation about coffee. As a recent coffee convert it piqued my interest.
A man was giving a sermon on addiction, and how he couldn’t get out of the bed in the morning without coffee. Strong, black. The woman he was lecturing admitted that she was somewhat the same. Cappucinos and lattes for her, however. “Pah,” said the man. “Women’s drinks.”
And that, I think, sums up a male attitude that is out of place in society today. Men are habituated into feeling the necessity to push themselves into feats of strength or endurance. I do it too, I admit. If there’s a spicy meal on a menu, I will order it as hot as possible. It’s not merely that I like it, but I want to prove that I can handle it. I wouldn’t say I’m that bad – I can enjoy a weak curry without feeling less of a man. But I do have a tendency to categorise some things as ‘women stuff’. And I think that behaviour’s unacceptable. I constantly bemoan the fact that women can wear all sorts of lovely dresses while I’m stuck with expression through a varied range of shirts. The male cosmetic industry is booming. It’s clear that men aren’t all sticking to the ‘standard’ “me Tarzan, you Jane” male stereotype. But a lot of it floats under the radar.
The opposite could be said of women’s progressive movements. I try to avoid mentioning feminism, merely because of the multitude of philosophies held within it. It was a strike of victory when women were allowed to wear trousers in the workplace. My mother was the first policewoman allowed to wear trousers in my home council district. It wasn’t just oppressive towards women, the fact that they had to wear skirts, but impracticable. Trousers were more functional.
We need to think more like this. Stop sticking to gender norms and instead stick with what is practical. If drinking a pint of Guinness makes you want to throw up, stick to an alcopop. If ‘man’ coffee kicks your heartrate into the 200s then have a latte or a hot chocolate. Feeling ‘manly’ can be nice at times, but feeling pressured into something you don’t want to do isn’t good. Isn’t ‘manly’. Let me think of some Men of history who are accepted as ‘manly’. Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris. Honest Abe. Would any of them let societal pressure dictate what they felt they needed to do?
I remember, quite vividly, a scene from an X-men comic, where it’s revealed that Wolverine drinks a glass of strawberry milk every night before he goes to bed. “Takes a real man to drink something pink,” he grunts.
My title is taken straight from the TED talk by Tony Porter. He begs us to get out of the ‘man box’ which allows and perpetuates treating women as lesser beings, as objects. The mentality I’ve referred to doesn’t go this far, I hope, but it echoes similar sentiments.
Feel free to give me some better examples of Men, with a capital ‘M’, to give a better illustration. Those Men were simply taken off the top of my head.
Hello there, my long suffering followers. All two of you, or so I believe. I write from the bottom of my heart, with you as an audience.
I’ve been wrestling a bit with creating an ‘experience’ on the website Mightybell. It’s about the nature of resilience, and how to foster more of it. I could write it here, but the shiny new format seduced me away from my priorities. I’m very sorry for being remiss, and offer you a boot up the backside in recompense.
‘Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less‘ ~John Major.
Some of the people who will read this won’t be of British origin, so they may not have heard of the developments we’ve had in the U.K. over the summer. Several parts of London and other cities and towns were subjected to widespread looting and property damage. It made me think a lot about why people do such things, and the appropriate ways to stop them. A lot of my thinking may sound like I’m trying to excuse the rioters for their actions and blame it all on society. That isn’t the case. I was truly disgusted by the riots and I think that explanation doesn’t equate to justification.
A school of thought I find very interesting is that of positivism. Set in an era of rapid scientific growth, practitioners saw that scientific growth being applied to technology, which was improving society. They wanted to use the natural scientific method to make discoveries about the social world and use their conclusions to better society. Cesare Lombroso was an Italian physicist who believed that criminals were different to others in society and tried to study their different physical features. You may have heard of his precise measurements of the shape of the skull to determine criminal capacity. Although such studies might be laughed at nowadays, the advance of genetics and neuroscience may mean a resurgence in Lombroso’s method.
That was one of the reasons people offend. Possibly not the actual one, but one I find more interesting. But now I’ll get to the meat of this post.
I think that capitalist society has encouraged the notion that the more things we have, the more worth we have. In a society where we worry about our social divide becoming more and more noticeable, some of the looting could be caused by the desire to accumulate worth, by accumulating wealth. That being said, the cynic in me thinks that much of it was motivated by simple human greed.
Gandhi was born into wealth and had a privileged upbringing and education. Ultimately he gave it all up and lived a life of less. His honorific in India, ’Father of the Nation’, goes somewhere in showing that our worth isn’t defined by our possessions. That’s a lesson that 99% of us should try to take to heart. The other 1% are already reaping their reward, but it may be too late for them to stop measuring themselves against their wealth.
What I’m trying to say is this; own less, live more, and be happier.
“You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.” ~Gandhi.
“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” – Arnold H. Glasgow
This quotation resurfaced in my mind today. And, taking into account the impending seasonal celebrations, I thought I’d tell you about fireworks.
Fireworks are an explosive that’s laboriously produced. They’re pretty dangerous things to make. Then you prime them and fire into the air. And in one furious outburst they’re gone. Is it worth it? In Tarō Okamoto’s words, ‘Art is Explosion’. If you have a passion that you’re working on, or a project, it isn’t enough to keep it under wraps and never reveal it. Eventually you should show it to the world in one great explosion and maybe it’ll live on. If it fails, at least you know you did something spectacular. There are no pockets in shrouds, and nobody will admire you for something you never did.
Like many great things, fireworks were invented by the Chinese. And like many other things, it was created as a consequence of something invented for war-making. Gunpowder, one of China’s ‘four great inventions’, is integral to the firework. This tells us a lot about humanity as a whole. War is one of our greatest sources of innovation. That’s a mite depressing. But fireworks are used as a symbol of celebration, to celebrate victory and peace. Fireworks, in a way, can be seen as a frivolity that’s possible because we don’t need that gunpowder for war. Having enough resources to squander on something as trivial as a firework is something to celebrate in itself.
Bonfire night is a British tradition. I don’t know if other countries celebrate it. It’s the ritualistic burning of a man caught trying to destroy our Houses of Parliament. Savage, but patriotic. But if you’re ever at a bonfire display, try something at the main event. As a lovely huge firework starts to explode in the sky, turn around and look at the crowd around you. You’ll see a sea of faces all staring upwards in unison. Their eyes are all reflecting vivid oranges and greens as they’re fixed upon a shared vision. It’s times like that when you can really get a sense of human unity. And it’s a firework like that you should want to show the world.
Throughout your life you’re smouldering gently with a fire that will eventually consume you. Some fear it as mortality, others embrace it as passion. You have no way of knowing how much fuel you have. Some people burn like a bonfire and die peacefully aged ninety-four. Some people burn like a candle and die before they’re thirty. When it comes to life, there’s no justice or logic when it comes to length. There’s only the ability to make the most of it.
The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long – and some of us burn so very, very brightly. Don’t be scared.
“Well how can she fail me? I’ve already failed. What else can she do?”
“Well you did screw up your collections.”
“That’s because contract is so boring!”
“…And you didn’t do any work for them.”
“Yes, that, AND contract is boring. I don’t know what happened to me. I used to have such a good work ethic.”
“I’ve never had a good work ethic. I have no idea how I got here.”
“I remember back in Year 9 I’d always do my homework right after I got home…”
“I just copy Carrie’s notes.”
“Oh well whatever, is this where we’re having lunch?”
Some people do say the darned-est things. And they can seem utterly vacuous and illogical to the people who overhear them. Yet it’s somehow satisfying to hear that other people suffer from the very same problems as we do. I like to think that this is something more than schadenfreude, but the feeling you get when you realise that you’re a bit more normal than you previously imagined. From a young age we’re told that we’re different and special, and the uniqueness we internalise can give us pride and faith in ourselves. It can also make us feel lonely. 95% of professors report that they are ‘above average’ teachers. 96% of college students report that they have ‘above average’ social skills. Time Magazine asked Americans, “Are you in the top 1% of earners?”. 19% replied in the affirmative.
This little snippet from David Brooks’ talk at TED is used by him to illustrate how naturally over-confident we are. I see it as something slightly tangential to that; we think we’re unique, but somehow see that as a positive trait. Comparing it to others, it’s neither positive or negative. It’s a neutral point.
Harking back, this illusion of difference can make you feel cut-off from the world at large. On occasions, when I’m out in crowds, I look at the people and realise that in their own minds, they are the centre of the known universe. Just the same as it is for me. This is why it was reassuring to hear this utterly nonsensical discourse between what I assume was two second-year law students. I find contract boring at times. I’m not great at exams. I’m normal. Thanks for reminding me.