Tell me if you’ve heard this one. The United Nations champions many good ideas and efforts afoot that would vastly benefit people around the world if only it had the resources to pursue them. Standing in the way of all of this “good” are stubborn, stingy nations (like the U.S.) that do not give the U.N. enough resources to pursue their goals. If only the U.N. could circumvent the pesky issue of national sovereignty and tax individuals directly the U.N. could do wonders.
Although this may sound reasonable to those unfamiliar with the U.N., it is a recipe for disaster considering the U.N.’s extensive record of mismanagement, ineffectiveness, unaccountability and opacity.
Creating an international tax to fund the U.N. and other multilateral programs has long been a dream of global government advocates. Over the years, various U.N. reports and government officials have proposed taxing currency transactions and carbon, airline flights, international arms sales, resources harvested from outer space or the oceans, and e-mail.
Historically, proposals to give the U.N. a stream of income independent of the member states, for the most part, have been rejected for two fundamental reasons: national sovereignty and accountability.
- National Sovereignty. The United Nations is not a sovereign government elected by and accountable to the people. It is an international organization created to carry out the instructions of sovereign governments. Granting the U.N. authority to tax Americans or citizens of other nations directly would illegitimately grant the organization authority that it does not legally possess and morally should not. As stated in a 1996 Heritage paper, the ability to tax “represents the exercise of sovereign power. The U.N. should never have this power; it would be a usurpation of the constitutional rights of the American people. These rights are protected by the U.S. government, not the U.N. The U.N. does not represent the interests of Americans; it represents the interests of its 185 [now 192] member states, many of which are undemocratic and repressive.”
- Accountability. The United Nations has proven all too vulnerable historically to mismanagement, waste, fraud, and corruption. Efforts to address these problems have been undermined and weakened by governments and international bureaucrats uninterested in having the organization become more transparent or accountable. The most effective means for the few member states, like the U.S., to force the U.N. and unwilling member states to accept reforms to improve accountability and oversight is to use financial leverage. If the U.N. gains the independent authority and ability to tax, it would greatly undermine the ability of the member states to oversee, direct and reform the U.N.
Like many bad ideas, however, proposals for creating international taxes to fund the U.N. keep popping up:
- Perhaps encouraged by the decision of some countries ( like Brazil, Britain, Chile, France, and Norway) to impose a tax on airline tickets to fund efforts to combat HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, the World Health Organization this summer proposed creating a direct consumer tax on banking and Internet transactions like paying bills online to raise tens of billions of dollars for global health initiatives.
- France and Spain proposed taxing all financial transactions during the U.N. meetings this week as a way of financing the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
These proposals will find sympathetic ears in Congress. U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced The Investing in our Future Act (H.R. 5783) to “to impose an excise tax on currency transactions exceeding $10,000 equal to 0.005% of the value of the currency acquired in the transaction (currency transaction tax)” to fund (1) the Child Care Assistance Trust Fund to finance child care assistance in the U.S., (2) the Multilateral Global Health Trust Fund to address HIV/Aids and other health causes in developing countries, and (3) “a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change global climate fund for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Thankfully the Obama administration is reportedly opposed to these proposals for international taxation. But, clearly, not all U.S. lawmakers share this view. Now is not the time to go wobbly.