Taxes, poverty and the UN
A three day summit at the UN ends today. The summit, involving many world leaders, reviewed the efforts to date to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted at a UN summit in 2000. The goals, all extremely worthy, include cutting extreme poverty by 50%, ensuring universal primary education, and cutting child and maternal mortality – all by 2015.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out that the world is on track to cut extreme poverty by half. But this “success” has had nothing to do with the UN or the aftermath of the original MDG summit. The rapid growth and development of the Chinese and Indian economies have been the driving force, and growth and development in China and India have had nothing to do with foreign aid or other forms of charitable transfers from the West.
Addressing the summit on Monday, French President Sarkozy suggested that a tax be imposed on all financial transactions and the revenues be used to fund UN MDG initiatives. All of sudden Sarkozy cares about the poor, I guess as long as they are not in France. I find it somewhat hypocritical that Sarkozy tries to position himself as a champion of the poor while at the same he rounds up the Roma in France and arranges to have them deported back to Eastern Europe. NIMBYism of a different type.
With champions like Sarkozy, the UN MDG initiative definitely does not need any enemies. Sarkozy’s Roma policies are disgusting, his tax proposal absurd.
A Tobin tax has much merit. Throwing sand into the gears of the global financial markets might reduce some of the extreme volatility and instability in these markets, and might prevent a market meltdown. But any revenues collected should revert to the national governments that impose such a tax, and the revenues should be recycled to the domestic taxpayers in the form of lower income and/or sales taxes. The goal should be to reduce financial market instability and no more than this. The revenues should not be used to fund the whims of politicians.
Second, the UN, being an inept and dysfunctional organization, should be the last recipient of additional funds. They likely would be wasted or disappear. Have we already forgotten the oil for food fiasco in Hussein’s Iraq? Do we really need more UN bureaucrats and hangers-on traveling first class around the world?
Third, as China and India have clearly demonstrated, foreign aid and charity are not needed.
Finally, the UN could do more to alleviate poverty if they expelled members who engaged in systemic corruption and murder. Perhaps, some of the countries and their leaders might be embarrassed as a result. At least they would not have the ability to prance on the world stage and gain some pseudo respectability. While this is wishful thinking on my part, at least being ostracized and thus cut off from UN and most other foreign funds might reduce the payoffs for corruption and tyranny.
Giving the UN any of the proceeds of a Tobin tax and in turn having some of these funds passed on to the poorest countries would do little to achieve the anti-poverty goals, but might boost property values in London, the south of France and elsewhere.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.