Opinion: Bernard Hickey says the drive for a global Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions is building momentum that NZ can't ignore

Opinion: Bernard Hickey says the drive for a global Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions is building momentum that NZ can't ignore

By Bernard Hickey

Folk heroes become most popular in times of stress, particularly when the baddies seem to be winning.

There's no one seen as more heroic to working people than Robin Hood. He took from the evil Prince John and gave to the poor.

That's one reason, no doubt, why campaigners in Europe for a financial transactions tax call it the Robin Hood Tax.

If you want to find out more and have a laugh at the same time then google "Bill Nighy" and "Robin Hood Tax" to watch a Youtube video that was scripted by Richard Curtis of Four Weddings and a Funeral and BlackAdder fame. It's called 'The Banker'.

It was done as part of a grass roots campaign started just after the Lehman Brothers crisis in 2008 and the near meltdown of the global financial system.

The plan is for a tax of 0.05% or 0.1% to be paid on each financial transaction in wholesale bond, stock and foreign exchange markets. Estimates vary on how much could be raised, but most expect it could raise tens of billions of dollars in fresh revenues.

The idea has been around since the early 1970s and is also often called a Tobin Tax, named after economist James Tobin. See more here at Wikipedia.

Initially the Robin Hood tax idea didn't get much traction.

Bankers dismissed the idea immediately, as did many governments that were reluctant to stress the banks too much in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman crisis of late 2008 and early 2009. Britain and America still remain opposed to the idea.

But the mood has changed this year as outrage has spread about how much taxpayers' money was used to bail out banks and how many of the bankers have sailed merrily along paying each other millions of dollars in bonuses while taking big risks with government guarantees.

Also, governments are becoming increasingly cash-strapped and voters have lost no love for the investment bankers that appear to have created so much mayhem on financial markets.

The concerted backing of the idea by France and Germany in recent months has given it a real push along. They are now pushing for a discussion of such a tax at the key G20 meeting in November.

This is where it gets interesting for New Zealand and Prime Minister John Key. A former currency trader, Key has also dismissed the idea as unworkable and not on the agenda.

But it could be on the agenda fairly soon. That's because Australia is a member of the G20 and Prime Minister Julia Gillard will attend the November meeting. She has already been lobbied by the head of the EU, which is pushing hard for such a tax.

The big problem with a Robin Hood tax is that all of the major financial centres will have to agree to impose it, or trade simply migrates to the country where the tax is not imposed.

Realistically, both Britain and America have to agree, which seems remote right now. But the public mood is turning ugly on both sides of the Atlantic as growth fails to fire and the realisation sets in that financial market volatility, often caused by heavy trading by hedge funds and banks, is a factor in the endless economic slump.

Even Bill Gates, again crowned the world's richest man, has recommended a Robin Hood Tax in a paper for the G20 that says it could raise US$48 billion. See more in The Guardian here.

Fiscal reality will also set in. Ultimately, a Robin Hood Tax is a great way to reduce budget deficits and reduce some of the risktaking on financial markets. It is also politically popular.

If Australia goes with the tax, then New Zealand would seem to have no choice but follow.

Robin Hood will be one folk hero to watch closely over the next year.

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Let's see if I follow the argument...because of the failure of several if not most EMU countries and the UK as well as the usa, to properly regulate their thieving banks and due to the farcical failure of the govts within all of them to properly manage their economies and regulate in a prudent manner...they are almost one and all utterly fecken broke and deeeeeply in debt to each other several trillion billion times over.....as a consequence we are supposed say "OH goody let's have another tax"...and that this new tax is supposed to be used to repay the debts and recap the thieving useless banks and finance another bloody round of Keynesian madness................am I dreaming this crap or is this really being promoted?

Yup , Gummy is having a WTF moment with this Robin Hood tax , too . Even at a seemly modest 0.05 % , the tax raises $ 500 on every one million dollar transaction . Do we really want to kick businesses , investors and managed funds in the goolies at this time , when the world's economies are struggling ?

... the initial windfall for governments is enormous , so I am confident that it will be introduced .

The longer term ramifications for the business community are not so gilded .

I don't really believe that financial activity such as currency trading and speculation creates any benefit for me - or for the vast majority of people. Don't get me wrong - I fully support giving tax breaks to industrial companies and so forth that create jobs and that create things. But it seems to me that speculation creates no benefit for any other sector of the economy, while at the same time making every other secotor of the economy pay more for housing, petrol, food, labour... 

Can you explain to me why a reduction in this kind of economic activity would be a bad thing? Because I just can't see it. 

Sweden introduced a Tobin Tax in 1984 . It immediately crushed the value of the local companies on their stockmarket . Trading volume  in the bond market slumped by 98 % , and the options market ceased to trade . In 1990 the Swedish government abandoned the Tobin Tax . Stockmarket , bond and derivatives trading resumed once more .

.... if you wish to sieze up the flow of capital , this seems a ripping good way to do so . The victims appear to be small and medium sized businesses , as much a speculators .

The Presidents of Cuba , Venezuela and Argentina are fervent proponents of the Tobin Tax . Fidel Castro ( before stepping aside as Cuban President ) wished the United Nations to operate the Tobin Tax themselves , across the globe .

Tobin himself wanted the tax set quite high , around 0.5 % .... or a windfall for the government of $ 5000 on every million dollar trade .

..... am very surprised that Goofy , Cunny & Klinger havn't latched onto this , the proverbial Golden Goose .

Capitalism is dead - a solution Roger ! Where does the money come from to pay the bills ?

Read 4:05pm and Julianz 3:46pm

Walter : Do me a favour . Toddle on down to the Kaikoura New World .

If the shelves are full of foodstuffs , knick-nacks and Lotto tickets , then capitalism is not dead .

If the shelves are nearly empty , save some ghastly looking bread , and some seriously old eggs , then capitalism has died , and the country is being run under socialist rule .

Cheers : the Gummster .

Hey old eggs go for heaps in China...the older the better!...go figure

Any guesses as to why those century old eggs in the NZ Labour Party , the Goofster & Cunny , are not running as hard as their zimmer-frames will allow them , with the Tobin Tax idea ?...

.... This would be manna from heaven for them . " Free Money " , and a near limitless supply of it .

Roger - join the debate of Julianz article further down, in stead of tiddle taddle.

No thankyou .

 Roger - it doesn’t make sense just hammering constantly politicians, without making sensible proposals. It seems to me you are a fiery torpedo, right wing propagandist - with not much drive for solution finding.

Nordic countries do have successful economic models (mixed market), please read.





Disband all political parties .

Do away with the central banks .

Place the Gummy Bear portrait on the new $ 5 note .

.... ah , life could be so good , my friend . Unfetid capitalism , at last !

"Unfetid" ? is that a longhand SMS texting accronym for un-corrupt ?

It's a Gumlish word  ..... Bernard prefers the word  " unfetterred "

. ..  but I choose to exclude the sweaty paws of political cronyism in my ideal of capitalism , hence  " unfetid " .

Capitalism which doesn't stink .

Call me a " nervous Nellie " if you will , Walter .... but I just don't believe that Iceland is a good economic model for New Zealand .

I'm aware of the Swedish example, but they introduced their tax in isolation, and the money simply left Sweden. As Bernard pointed out, an FTT would need to be applied broadly, if not universally to be successful in its aim of reducing speculative trading. I don' t think the Swedish is therefore very helpful in answering my question. 

If we assume that such a tax were successfully introduced globally, what, if any, would be the negative effects?

If it was broadly applied , one of the negative effects is that it would flow .... eventually , down to the consumer , you and me . It is supremely naive to think that this won't be used ( just as the ETS is ) to sock the public in the wallet .

... You can gussy them up with fine sounding platitudes but ultimately these ( ETS & the Tobin Tax ) are nothing more than excuses for politicians to take more from us , the lumpen proletariat .

Do you think it would result in less speculation?

No answer for this one GBH? 

The way I see it, if just 1% of the money in speculation is forced out into the real economy, then your FTT has just paid for itself twice over even when you assume that the consumer will bear the entire cost of that tax.

It doesnt have to be a "global" impost. It can be done on a local, lock-down basis or a departure-fee. If hot money arrives into nz it gets locked in and can't depart for 60 days. If it leaves the next day there is a departure-fee of 1%.

Can anyone please explain what are the benefits to the NZ economy of $50 billion of hot-money flowing in and out of NZ on a daily basis?

"There's no one seen as more heroic to working people than Robin Hood. He took from the evil Prince John and gave to the poor.

That's one reason, no doubt, why campaigners in Europe for a financial transactions tax call it the Robin Hood Tax"


Slightly ironic that they would call any tax a Robin Hood tax ( I'm assuming that they think it is taking from the rich to give to the poor) considering that it was evil Prince John (government) overtaxing his people into oblivian. Robin Hood stole from the crown because of their overtaxing and gave it to the poor who where stuggling because of the actions of the state.

I don't recall the part where Robin Hood stole from bankers to give straight to Prince John for wealth redistubution in the name of "fairness" and "social justice".

but I haven't read it for a while... :)

Bernard - I believe the main problem is that we have too many taxes and that is why Government expenditure, at all levels, is so high.  My solution is to cut taxes and the size and extent of Government bureaucracies.  

Tsk tsk, silly boy.

I suggest you go wash your mouth out with soap this very minute.

We need more bureaucrats, not less. Bureaucrats with solutions for every problem, every need and want. Wonderful, skilful, most excellent bureaucrats everywhere, trained in the most excellent Institute of Bureaucratic Excellence the world has ever seen.



Cheers. Good link. She may not be PM for much longer...

I wonder what Kevin Rudd thinks.

Welcome any links people have seen on his views.



"A Tobin tax, suggested by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin, was originally defined as a tax on all spot conversions of one currency into another. The tax is intended to put a penalty on short-term financial round-trip excursions into another currency." ..... so many shades to this one...not just a revenue raiser

Seems pointless arguing either way, if they do, we do.

This just in - Zerohedge says Sky News breaking Greek default news:


G-20 scrambling to cover fall-out.


AndyH - surprised, not at all

many of us have been calling this sort of thing for ever on this website

seems only the dumb ass bank economists convinced themselves the world economy was on the mend

sorry to keep on with my economist bashing, but they are either absolutely hopeless, or incredibly devious  

The only suprising thing is its 12months later than I thought.....

I wonder how many CDS's will trigger?

and since most of it is covered in the USA.....just how they will survive a greek default...Im sure there will be a lot of hedge funds betting in this game...


The Telegraph are talking about a 1.7 tillion Euro rescue for greece, good knows what spain and Italy woiuld cost

£1.75 trillion deal to save the euro

British taxpayers risk being caught up in a £1.75trillion deal aimed at saving the euro by allowing Greece to default on its massive debts.


Mind boggling


Zerohedge on a roll - I have been watching the tumble in copper as a major recession signal - and so has Tyler:


Makes a lot of sense.

Also the industrials/chemicals companies based on oil....Dow, BaSF etc etc...I watch about 14 or so....all dropping....

Must look at the Baltic dry index,....


Bernard, you mention the big problem with such a tax being that all countries would have to agree to implement it. I fail to see why this would be a problem? So currency speculators, bond traders, stock market speculators, etc would take their trade to the countries that don't have the tax. So what? Good riddance to them, they only suck money out of the real economy anyway and provide nothing to the real economy by way of jobs, goods, taxes, etc so we can only gain by having the trades go offshore. It's a win win for us.

I'm liking your thinking... ;)



Baring any evidence, I agree......I really think the super rich are and have been for 2 decades global parasites, most ppl are clearly not better off and 1/2 of them are worse off....just looking at taht says this is a cluster ******.......yet our Govn seems unwilling to face some realities.


As a taxpayer, I want my money back, with interest. The bailouts are just a loan, don't make me get my heavies onto you

And now is the time too for a FTT tax of .05% on all internal deposits with no tax deductibility. And if money is sent off shore to avoid that tax then there should be a 1% FTT on that money

And now is the time too for a FTT tax of .05% on all internal deposits with no tax deductibility. And if money is sent off shore to avoid that tax then there should be a 1% FTT on that money

I think they should only apply the FTT to large volume transactions such as currency trades and large share purchase (then sale 10 secs later) type transfers. In other words there shouldn't be a tax every time you use a bank, only when the dollars are large. Also I don't think it should apply to IPO's when companies first list as that is good and proper investment in business. If the banking cartels make noises about not cooperating then we (Global governments) should grow some balls and tell them it's either that or we take back the ability to create money from them and hand it back to governments. (where it should be anyway)

But if there was an FTT on all deposits without any tax deductability other taxes eg GST could be reduced.  There are too many people who avoid or evade paying tax, that some form of tax has to be non tax deductible

hence a CGT and a land tax.....

So if you live in NZ and own a house you pay tax...

Reducing taxes, you cant reduce GST, we need more tax because we spand more than we tax....


Utter rubbish from those who still believe more taxation leads to utopia. Fair go Patricia...what's next in your list of things to tax...how about a GST on cosmetics since they are products used by the wealthy....not something the low income lot waste money on...you'd support that wouldn't you!

But I do pay GST on my cosmetics. Don't you Wolly?

Nah...blokes don't have to...and you sheilas should be forking out 40% gst on the stuff and on footwear with heels higher than one inch.

a Tobin tax is not meant to be a money making tax. Its primary purpose is to be a disincentive to kinds of speculation that are harmful to the rest of the economy. 

Jeez Ben...has the Tooth Fairy been to see you?..." not meant to be a money making tax"...oh FFS

Yup , FFS sums it up . Along with the ETS , which will really improve the climate , and slow down global warming , won't it ? ...

..... FFS if you believe this Tobin Tax bollocks being spun from the EU / the UN / some wooly headed economic professors & journalists ,..  and Hugo Chavez .

What's it mean anyway...I just bung FFS on the end whenever I am utterly stumped for something to say...!

.. oh for fecks sake , Wolly ... I was hoping that you'd tell me wot FFS meant ...... bugga .

I guess I'm just an optimist at heart : )

The financial sector is the most wealthy and profitable on the planet and is the only sector that doesn't pay tax. Why should they be exempt? Especially as they contribute nothing to the real economy but suck money out of the real economy which never returns.

What it is meant to be , and what it actually becomes , may be two very different beasties . If you trust your politicians to be honest , and to implement it well , and to only affect the speculators ........ then you are a braver man than me , Gunga Din .

Fair point. 

See this article "Why the fuss about the manufacturing industry?" by Ian McAuley who lectures in Public Sector Finance at the University of Canberra and is a Centre for Policy Development Fellow.

Addresses issues across the ditch but for the most part equally applicable to New Zealand


McAuley looks at a number of factors affecting Australian manufacturing and regarding the cuurency he says:

  • "But we do need to acknowledge that the volatility in our exchange rates makes for an extremely difficult business environment – quoting for export, estimating the costs of imported equipment, and making long-term plans for location of facilities. Some short-term trades can be hedged, but only at high cost.
  • Our currency is hostage to sentiment and the speculative carry trade. Our dollar has become the fifth most traded currency in the world. It rises when people are feeling optimistic about the Chinese economy, or when speculators believe we may raise interest rates to combat inflation. Counter-intuitively, it falls when there are jitters about the US economy and people seek the "safety" of US bonds. Whenever a European politician mentions the word "Greece" our exchange rate is moved in a random process unconnected to underlying economic conditions.
  • There are measures we can take to reduce this volatility, such as a small tax, say 0.1 percent, on all foreign exchange transactions – enough to dampen speculation, but not significant enough to discourage genuine import, export or real investment transactions."

Seems to reach much the same conclusion as Bernard.

 Good “Hands on NZculture” – but where are skilful, decent jobs ?

One important reason, why our economy is going completely wrong in this country is:

Job offers do not correspond with a great “Hands on NZculture” of the majority of the population – there are simply not enough skilful jobs for Kiwis in the real economy – manufacturing or others.

I blame the government/ policymakers allocating these jobs to Asian and other countries ordering infrastructure needs in the sectors energy, transport and telecommunication in the billions – for years. I blame the government/ policymakers of not planning ahead and give incentives/ support for companies in the production sector and aim for the right ratio between what we are, who we are, can do and are happy to do in our society.

We have governments/ policymakers for years, which are miscalculating society vs economy – creating inequality/ low wages/ etc.

This issue can be looked at from either a global or a domestic perspective.
There is insufficient information to draw any meaningful conclusions.

known knowns
New Zealand cant solve the problems of the rest of the world.
Approx $50 billion hot money passes through NZ every day
Amounts to more than a few $ trillion every year.
Exceeds NZ annual GDP many time over.
In moving that amount of money, the hot money cowboys arent small fry.
Theyre not small investors
They influence the value of the NZD

known unknowns
Who the hot money cowboys are
Where does the money go
What its intention is
What it's used for
How long it stays in NZ

Einstein said: given a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining it and five minutes solving it. Polaroid inventor Edwin Land said: If a problem can be defined, it can be solved.

Dan Bell of NZFX must have a fair idea what the answers are. BNZeconomists must have a fair idea what the answers are. RBNZ definitely knows. Over to you Bernard to ask the questions. If you don't ask the right questions you will never get the right answers.

For those that are interested, here's a link to 1,000 economists, financial 'experts', etc who signed a petition to the G20 demmanding a Tobin tax be introduced. It includes plenty of heavyweights such as heads of economics at MIT and Harvard business school, etc.

http://robinhoodtax.org/sites/default/files/Economist sign-ons.pdf

I see Brazil is trying a 1 per cent transactions tax on currency derivatives positions but  is now looking a bit worried by the decline in the currency.  Because of general volatility and the fact that they implemented an interest rate cut at the same time makes it is hard to ascertain the effect of the tax


The financial transactions tax idea is certainly gaining traction:

http://news.ph.msn.com/business/article.aspx?cp-documentid=5320228 ( HT Mish)

"Brussels to release financial tax plan despite US objections

Europe looks set to shrug off US objections and go it alone with a financial transactions tax, an EU source said Tuesday, with Brussels due to imminently release proposals likely to raise a storm even within the bloc's ranks."