Top Anglican Calls for Debate on Financial Tax

November 2, 2011 - 5:55 AM
Britain Occupy London Protest

A tent bearing a banner is seen outside St Paul's Cathedral in London, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. It has been announced Tuesday that St Paul's Cathedral is to suspend its legal action against the Occupy London Protestors who are camped around the church. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON (AP) — The leader of the world's Anglican Christians is backing a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions as one response to the global financial crisis.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in a commentary published Wednesday in the Financial Times, said "it was time we tried to be more specific" in finding answers to the vague demands represented by anti-capitalist protests outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, a demonstration inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement.

"The protest at St. Paul's was seen by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign at all of diminishing," Williams wrote.

"There is still a powerful sense around — fair or not — of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of messages not getting through; of impatience with a return to 'business as usual' represented by still soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices."

The transaction tax was proposed in the 1970s by the late James Tobin, an American economist and Nobel Prize winner. Williams said a low tax rate — 0.05 percent on each transaction — could raise more than $400 billion globally each year.

The European Commission supports the tax, estimating that it could raise euro30 billion ($41 billion) a year, but the British government has firmly opposed it, preferring a direct tax on bank assets.

Williams called for a "robust" public debate "to probe how far the government's preferred option will guarantee the domestic and international development goals central to the 'Robin Hood ' proposals."

Williams wrote approvingly of three proposals offered last week by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: separation of high-risk investment banking from retail banking; recapitalizing banks with public funds; and a tax on financial transactions.

"If religious leaders and commentators in the U.K. and elsewhere could agree on these three proposals, not as a fixed agenda but as a common ground on which to start serious discussion, the struggles and questionings alike of protesters and clergy at St. Paul's will not have been wasted," Williams wrote.

The British Bankers Association opposes a transaction tax, arguing that unless it was applied worldwide it would harm the financial industry in higher-tax countries. "The U.K. would be particularly affected by any such tax as it is the world's financial center," the association said in a statement in September.

The archbishop's call for a transaction tax drew a lukewarm response from the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who is now leading St. Paul's response to the hundreds of protesters occupying tents outside the cathedral.

"Well, he (Williams) is an intellectual of European standing and I'll certainly read what he says with great attention," Chartres said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

"He has studied the subject in some detail and, like any other citizen, it's a totally legitimate thing to do. But if I were to pronounce on the Tobin tax I think I would be, isn't the City phrase 'overtrading?'"