Over the last 48 hours there has been quite a buzz on Twitter, Facebook and on various left-ish blogs about a new campaign (campaign site here) in the UK for a so-called Robin Hood Tax. What the hell is a Robin Hood Tax was my first thought? Unlike income tax or value added tax, the name is clearly chosen for branding purposes.
So why, with much fanfare and the backing of an impressive range of organisations, are we calling this thing the Robin Hood Tax rather than Tobin Tax or Financial Transaction Tax?
Essentially the idea is that Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor, and that’s what this tax is designed to do. But isn’t that the idea behind a whole range of taxes, not least income tax?
Secondly, the Tobin Tax notion is – at least among political activists – known across the world. Is there going to be an attempt to apply the Robin Hood name to it elsewhere as well? And to do so, does everyone outside the UK know enough of the Robin Hood story? Robin Hood has at least been used to refer to financial plans before – in 1993 in Texas. Or has this naming idea been cooked up by UK activists just conscious of the UK general election on the horizon?
Maybe I am too much of a political nerd, but I am only in favour of catchy titles for things if it actually helps the population understand what’s going on, and in this case – while the frame is nice and fuzzy and positive and pleasant – that’s not so. Many taxes are Robin Hood-style, from rich to poor, so the new title does not assist citizen understanding. For me Financial Transaction Tax is just clearer and simpler, and Tobin Tax as a title at least credits the Nobel Prize winning economist who came up with the idea
Last but not least, what might we call taxes that redistribute the other way, i.e. from poor to rich? Value Added Tax is the most obvious example of this, so can we call that the Margaret Thatcher Tax and levy 17.5% MTT in the UK from now on?