The feasibility of global finance taxes has been much debated since the floating of the idea in 1972 by Nobel Laureate James Tobin. The other major area in which global taxes are recurrently proposed concern carbon emissions with suggestions for a carbon tax, a notion that appears to be attracting renewed attention in the EU. Both the notion of a global finance tax and the idea of a global carbon tax have the quality of being "Pigovian taxes", named such after the economist A.C. Pigou, meaning that they are intended to create disincentives for certain kinds of behaviour. The rationale for them is that certain activities have costs that are greater than the prices levied on them by markets.
Not all the forms of global tax proposed have this "Pigovian" bent since some, by contrast, are aimed at affirming certain ends rather than trying to limit activities. One form of such an affirmative global tax measure is Thomas Pogge's notion of a Global Resource Dividend intended to ensure that wealthy nations come together to collect means to alleviate poverty in the developing world. The details of Pogge's proposal and the problems alleged with it have been subjects dealt with at some length in a number of places but the basic conception of the Dividend has been widely influential.
Despite the widespread nature of the campaigns for global taxes there are some curious features of the discussion of the taxes. Firstly, in the absence of a global taxation authority, it remains the case that the imposition, collection and distribution of any such proposed taxes will tend to remain at the national level (though a federal EU could in principle also act in this way). Second, the suggestion of such taxes is widely recognized to have implications concerning redistribution, not all of which are evidently benign.
Thirdly, whilst one of Pogge's central arguments concerns the view that the poverty of many in the world today is a legacy of the activities of those in the wealthy countries this is, to say the least, arguable. Since poor governance in a developing country acts to forestall the countries growth independently of its relation to developed countries the promotion of means within the developing country to produce better internal governance has arguably more valence for its future development than would receipt of donations from developed countries. Fourthly, the imposition of global taxes in the absence of a central global authority ensures that the taxes in question are imposed on a group of citizens by their public authority for the benefit of some beyond the remit of that authority. To put that another way, citizens are taxed for the exclusive benefit of non-citizens, something not clearly part of the social contract.
The curious features of these taxes apply less to carbon taxes given the evident global effect of environmental policies and the detrimental effect on all of the pursuit of poor policy in these areas. Even here the question of redistribution raises some difficult questions since many poorer countries will have worse environmental records. So the arguments for global taxes have to be assessed as at present unproven though the activism in favour of them indicates a growing awareness of a need for an expansive sense of cosmopolitan right, a notion that has been signally important in Neo-Kantian IR theory as will be discussed in more detail in later postings.