Global democracy and Robin Hood tax

by | 28 Oct 2011 | Global democracy | 1 comment

Occupy Wall Street poster

Our One Great Demand: The Adbusters poster advocating that the Robin Hood tax be the ‘One Great Demand’ adopted by Occupy general assemblies, on 29 October. Poster Adbusters

Only 26 sovereign states are judged full democracies.

Most of the world’s 196 countries use democracy somewhat sparingly, if at all. And although Aotearoa is ranked fifth amongst the fully democratic, it directly elects neither its head of government—the prime minister—nor its effective head of state—the governor general, nor does it routinely hold binding referendums.

Ranked 12 places behind Aotearoa, the United States epitomises government that, while ostensibly fully democratic, is bought and paid for by big business. Thomas Jefferson said:

the remedy for the ills of democracy is more democracy.

Two centuries later, the yawning deficiency in democracy is the lack of global democracy. Only global democracy can counter the global corporatism that opposes climate action in order to fully exploit fossil fuel reserves, regardless of the catastrophic consequences that are already exacting a terrible toll. Individual countries are incapable of causing global corporations to be mindful of their greenhouse gas contributions—they can simply threaten to relocate, if they haven’t already done so.

Mark Rutte

Prime Minister Backs Tax: The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte plans to propose a Robin Hood tax to the G20 conference. Had some form of Tobin tax been implemented four decades earlier, the Second Great Depression might have been avoided and the likes of Prime Minister John Key might have found themselves more productive pursuits than the currency trading that made them their easy millions. image Wikipedia

It seams unlikely that the initiative for global democracy can come from within the United Nations—turkies’ traditional aversion to voting for early Christmases. Because they would be directly elected, few of the current government appointees are likely to find themselves voted in global parliamentary representatives. But a global grassroots movement such as Occupy, if it implemented internet-based polling, could acquire a global mandate that could not be ignored. The Occupy movement is receiving support from the 10-million strong global activist group Avaaz, the membership of which ballooned by 4‍ ‍million in the last nine months.

The United Nations wasn’t designed to be last world in global democracy. Thinkers of the day, including Albert Einstein, saw it as a first stage to world federalism. But the body has failed to morph into a global parliament, reflecting a desperate reluctance of national leaders, elected or otherwise, to relinquish more than a skerrick of their countries’ sovereignty to a higher authority.

Democracy as practiced by the United Nations is analogous to Aotearoa (or any other country) having its members of parliament appointed by the local councils. If the idea was mooted, say to halve the cost of elections, the populace would rightly reject the prospect as preposterous—it’s rare for voters to vote for less democracy. Periodically it is suggested that Aotearoa, in the interests of a less start/stop economy, extends the parliamentary term from three to four years. Referendums to that end have seen the suggestion soundly routed—in 1990 it was opposed by nearly 70% of the 82.4% of those eligible who voted.

Similarly, mixed member proportional will weather November’s referendum. Pre-1996, it wasn’t unusual for a party (invariably National) receiving slightly fewer votes to pick up slightly more seats. With Aotearoa’s fully proportional system, voters get to directly determine how many seats the respective parties receive, and get to elect their local representative. The system is far from perfect, but by establishing that system will be fine-tuned, should the referendum favour it, Justice Minister Simon Power’s legacy will be to have helped preserve the principal of proportionality. The elegantly simple way to address the system’s deficiencies is to allow voters to express more than their first preference—to rank electoral candidates 1, 2, 3 etc. rather than allowing only a single tick; likewise with the party vote. This would result in fewer list seats being required to achieve strict proportionality. The other, consummate, improvement involves dispensing with the coattails provision and replacing it with Stephen Todd’s graduated threshold.

The objection many have with mixed member proportional is that further entrenches what they see as the enemy of democracy: The party political system. But again, the remedy for that ill is more democracy. Parties by law should be required to be transparent, and for candidate selection and policy decided by scrupulously democratic processes. Parties, at their best, provide voters with coherent sets of policies and teams of representatives from which to choose. In the absence of parties, such as in the case of local body elections in the Tamahunga area, voters are denied the opportunity of voting for significant policy—to vote, for example, for maintaining and upgrading Northland rail, as opposed to the planned fossil fuel squandering, atmosphere destroying, Pūhoi–Wellsford motorway.

Finance Minister calculator

Radical Tax Calculator: Backing up Susan Guthrie and Gareth Morgan’s Big Kahuna book proposing an uncontested basic income and flat tax on all income and capital, are calculators to allow the curious to play at being Finance Minister Bill English. Form The Big Kahuna

Political parties would play a similar role in global democracy. Global Climate Action and Global Green Growth would presumably be strong contenders for the title of the dominant party. Old party titles such as Conservative and Liberal would struggle for support. Others, such as National and Republican, would clearly be incongruous.

The Canadian magazine Adbusters is currently lobbying for a 1% Robin Hood tax to be the ‘one great demand’ called for in its historic Occupy Wall Street poster:

On October 29, on the eve of the G20 Leaders Summit in France, let’s the people of the world rise up and demand that our G20 leaders immediately impose a 1% Robin Hood tax on all financial transactions and currency trades. Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3‍ ‍trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day—enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world.

Based on Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin’s concept for using a transaction tax on a global scale, the tax is supported by world figures from Bill Gates to Pope Benedict XVI. With the voices of the 99% booming from the streets and cyberspace, it could be implemented by the fortieth anniversary of the idea: 2012. Meanwhile, Aotearoa’s political parties appear to be missing the moment, bogged down with trivialities such as taxing capital gains and raising the retirement age, while similarly ignoring Susan Guthrie and Gareth Morgan’s radical and persuasive proposal for turning tax and welfare on its head.

The one great demand, it could be argued, should be for global democracy. But if the Adbusters advocacy succeeds, two great demands could be met in one:

A global Robin Hood tax, and the birth of global democracy.

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