This weekend, G20 leaders have an opportunity to support a simple idea that would finally redistribute some of the much talked-about benefits of globalization to the rest of the world – to fight global poverty and climate change.
Last week, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy wedded themselves to the idea of the Robin Hood Tax, writing a letter to Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper to put discussion of the tax on the agenda at this weekend’s meetings.
The idea is to impose a tiny tax of 0.05 per cent on all financial transactions on the stock market and futures markets. For the most part, it would target the speculative activity of day traders who make hundreds of thousands of deals a day using computer algorithms. Astonishingly, at just 0.05 percent, this tax could generate hundreds of billion dollars, several times the amount donor countries contribute to global aid budgets.
To date, Harper has dismissed the idea of a “bank tax” (not a Robin Hood Tax or financial transaction tax), largely on the grounds that Canadian banks (like those in India, Brazil, China, and South Korea) didn’t have the same financial meltdown in other countries.
This may be the case. But he is missing the point. This is more than just a financial crisis. It is an economic crisis.
The news reports are already showing the pictures of the burning police car, the smashed windows, the wanton destruction. They are showing the hundreds or so anarchists masked in black that stormed the legions and legions of armed police.
What they are not showing, is the fifteen or twenty thousand peaceful protesters who marched today side by side for global social, economic and environmental justice. Hundreds of different organizations came together, advocating for change on a range of issues from domestic poverty and climate justice, to women’s rights and making trade fair, to the Robin Hood Tax and green jobs. The unions were there, the church groups, the environmentalists, the local community activities.
We all came together with different visions for a different world, but we were all speaking with one voice and marching to one beat.
One of the most striking things about Toronto in recent days is how quiet and empty the streets are.
Most Torontonians have fled the city ahead of the G20. With 19,000 police and private security forces having flooded into the city – four times the numbers at September’s G20 in Pittsburgh – and the downtown core locked behind a two meter high four kilometre long chain link fence, it is perhaps no surprise people are running scared. The Police have even indicated that anyone who comes within 5 meters of the fence, could be subject to detainment. Rest assured though, tear gas will be used in an environmentally responsible manner (http://www.g8-g20isu.ca/g20/faq-eng.htm#environment)
Clearly, bringing twenty of the world’s global leaders carries with it significant security concerns that must be taken very seriously.
It was perhaps fitting that the first person I met after my arrival in Toronto was Brian O’Neill, still with Oxfam Canada and one of the founding members of the Halifax Initiative. The T-shirt he was wearing dated back to our own founding – the 1995 Group of Seven Summit in Halifax – and was emblazoned with a seven headed dinosaur: the G-sevenosaurus.
The back of Brian’s T-shirt is worth citing in full:
“Although its origins can be traced to seven geographical regions, evidence shows that this imposing creature’s influence was felt world-wide. The G-sevenosaurus possessed powerful limbs, but had poor hearing and short-sighted vision. Despite its large, thick skulls, the collective brain size was extremely small, suggesting the G-sevenosaurus may have at times exhibited irrational behaviour. Predatory by nature, this reptile’s voracious appetite resulted in disproportionate consumption of the period’s limited resources. The G-sevenosaurus’ eventual extinction came about as a result of the scarcity of females in their midst and an inability to adapt to a changing environment.”
Predictions of its early extinction were sadly overstated. Even this year, French President Sarkozy said in February that when France would have chaired both the G8 and G20, there would only be a G20 meeting. This would have definitively killed the beast. But Sarkozy changed his mind just as quickly, and the G8 now looks set to meet, albeit discussing a very narrow range of issues.
And now we have a bigger beast to tackle – the G20. It has evolved from its cousin – the G-sevenosaurus. But frankly speaking, it shares many of the same traits with one interesting twist – without decisive action that takes account of the interests of the world, it seems hell-bent on its own destruction. And all of ours.