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.