Is Archbishop right to back Tobin tax?

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Rowan WilliamsArchbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has backed the idea of a so-called 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial transactions, saying it would be a way of advancing the "moral agenda" of the protestors who have been camped outside St Paul's cathedral and in other cities across the world over the past few months. Campaigners for the Tobin Tax what a small levy imposed on share, bond and currency transactions to fund the "real economy".

Dr Williams said: "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."

He said the ideas being advanced by protestors "have been advanced from other quarters, religious and secular, in recent years" and that they "do not amount to a simplistic call for the end of capitalism, but they are far more than a general expression of discontent".

Williams's comments come after the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace also issued a call for meaningful financial reform last week. The comments from powerful religious figures go some way towards repairing the damage done by the way the established church seemed to respond to the financial crisis and the protests it sparked.

Church and Mammon

No doubt some will say the church has no place getting involved in such matters. Others argue it has a moral responsibility to do so. I'm not a religious man, but from what I've read of the Bible there's at least as much about Mammon in there as there is about homosexuality, and considerably more about Mammon than about women priests – two issues which the church has spent a lot of time on in recent years.

There's been some criticism of the St Paul's protest for bringing the church into the firing line rather than targeting the financial institutions. But let's not forget the protestors were prevented from reaching the London Stock Exchange by police and legal action served by corporate interests.

That's how St Paul's came to find protestors on its doorstep, and the institution's bungled handling of the affair has put the spotlight on the links between it and the very financial interests that were being targeted. Now, though, the cathedral and the City have suspended their attempts to break up the camp in the face of the outcry.

Dean of St Paul's

Unfortunately the Dean of St Paul's, who seemed to understand early on that there is a difference between the church and the institution, was forced to resign as the affair unfolded. That prompted the Biblically-inspired observation that: "It is easier for a rich man to enter St Paul's than for a poor man to protest outside."

When we ran a poll on whether the Church of England should back the St Paul's protests two weeks ago, 65% agreed it should. It seems that the moral, as well as material, case for reform of the financial system is spreading its roots. Imagine what could be achieved if there was some kind of political organisation performing the role of opposition too.

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