UPDATED: See editor's note at bottom
A 1 percent tax on billionaires around the world. A tax on all currency trading in the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound sterling. Another “tiny” tax on all financial transactions, including stock and bond trading, and trading in financial derivatives. New taxes on carbon emissions and on airline tickets. A royalty on all undersea mineral resources extracted more than 100 miles offshore of any nation’s territory.
The United Nations is at it again: finding new and “innovative” ways to create global taxes that would transfer hundreds of billions, and even trillions, of dollars from the rich nations of the world — especially the U.S. — to poorer ones, in line with U.N.-directed economic, social and environmental development.
These latest global tax proposals have received various forms of endorsement at U.N. meetings over the spring and summer, and will be entered into the record during the 67th U.N. General Assembly session, which began this week. The agenda for the entire session, lasting through December, is scheduled to be finalized on Friday.
How to convince developed countries wracked by economic recession and spiraling levels of government debt – especially the U.S. — is another issue, which the world organization may well end up trying to finesse.
As the U.N. itself notes, in a major report on the taxation topic titled, “In Search of New Development Finance” -- the main topic at a high-level international meeting of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this summer -- “These proposals are subject to political controversy. For instance, many countries are not willing to support international forms of taxation, as these are said to undermine national sovereignty.”
The U.N. clearly hopes it can find a way to move ahead. “ Politically, tapping revenue from global resources and raising taxes internationally to address global problems are much more difficult than taxing for purely domestic purposes,” admits an ECOSOC document produced last April. But, it summarizes, “the time has come to confront the challenge.”
Shortly thereafter, the tax proposals — known in U.N.-speak as “innovative methods of financing”-- got a limited endorsement from a group of government ministers and other heads of national delegations who attended a major ECOSOC meeting in New York City in July.
The global taxation idea was echoed this week by Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and also a U.N. Assistant Secretary General. Sachs was recently named by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to head a new intellectual lobbying group of experts called the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It “will work closely with United Nations agencies, multilateral financing institutions and other international organizations,” according to the Earth Institute website.
On Monday, the controversial economist, a vociferous supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, called on President Obama to implement a carbon tax that in turn could be used to finance bonds, paying for investments to combat “climate change” -- one of the major focuses of the new solutions network.
Sachs was quoted by Bloomberg News as declaring that, “I’m happy to have the future pay for a lot of this. It doesn’t have to be current financed.”
In the midst of a heated U.S. national election campaign, any official endorsement of those views is unlikely.
Nonetheless, the U.N. is taking a longer view. The world organization, and its constellation of funds, agencies and programs, has been pushing “innovative financing” for nearly a decade, since the topic was discussed in depth at an international conference in 2002. The topic was endorsed again at the failed Rio + 20 conference last summer, without much detail attached.
But the need for new revenue is becoming more urgent as the world’s rich countries, gripped in recession, no longer hand out foreign aid with the same generosity as before — though the total reached $133 billion annually last year--while the demands for huge additional amounts of money for social and climate issues continues to grow.
Earlier this year, for example, the overseers of a new, U.N.-sponsored Green Climate Fund held their first meeting in Bonn to contemplate the spending of some $30 billion annually — rising to $100 billion by 2020 — to meet climate change needs in developing countries. Where all that money will come from is still not clear.
The U.N.’s latest roster of tax possibilities certainly has what the New Development Finance Report calls “large fundraising potential.” Or, at least some of them do. An around-the-world tax of $25 per ton on carbon dioxide emissions in rich countries, the report says, could raise some $250 billion a year. That new billionaire’s tax would raise anywhere from $40 billion to $50 billion per year, the report estimates, though it adds that the idea “is not yet in any international agenda.”
The U.N. places the same estimated value on the proposed currency tax ($40 billion), and roughly the same thing on its proposed financial tax ($15 billion to $75 billion).
Even more innovative is a notion to, in effect, borrow the lines of credit allocated to rich countries themselves at the International Monetary Fund, and “leverage” them to create new investment funds for the world’s poor. How to do this while preserving those credit lines as a reserve asset that rich countries could draw on when required, the report admits, remains to be seen.
Another “innovative” idea that may have trouble staying afloat is the notion of charging royalties on undersea minerals more than 100 miles offshore, within what are called “exclusive economic zones” — in effect, inside some country’s sovereign economic territory.
The sensitive issue here is that the world’s current “exclusive economic zones” extend 200 miles offshore — meaning that the U.N. is suggesting that it collect royalties on mineral wealth on half the “exclusive” territory, which it refers to in the report as part of the “global commons.”
For most nations, excluding the U.S., those 200 mile zones were established by the U.N.-sponsored Law of the Sea Treaty, known as LOST, which came into force in 1994 after it was signed and ratified by 162 countries. (The U.S. signed but has not ratified LOST; its 200-mile “exclusive economic zone” was established by presidential decree.)
The new, 100-mile royalty proposal in the U.N.’s financing report would require a new agreement to hand over proceeds from half of that territory to the U.N.-sponsored International Seabed Authority.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Approximately 24 hours after this story was published, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations sent the following unsolicited statement to Fox News: “The United States opposes global taxes because we believe that any source of revenue should remain under the control of national authorities. This is an idea that has been kicked around for years. Fortunately, it hasn’t gone anywhere, nor will it.”
The U.S. is currently one of the 54 nations elected for three year terms to ECOSOC, which, as the story notes, has incubated many of the “innovative” tax ideas. The U.S. term expires at the end of this year, though it may be re-elected.
George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell