The global economy is out of control, and the global brains at the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank are not quite sure what to do about it. One prescription being bandied about is a global tax and all the monitoring, rules, and regulations that would go along with it. In short, a global IRS.

Sound fantastic? Endorsements of a global tax on international currency transactions are becoming rather common. On January 30, as the House Banking Committee opened hearings on the Clinton administration’s demands for more IMF bailout money for Asia, the Washington Post declared that “One reason for the wild swings in global financial markets—and the need for IMF bailouts —may be that it has become easy and costless to exchange one currency for another. James Tobin, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, suggests throwing some sand in the gears of this process by imposing a universal tax on currency transactions.”

At the Banking Committee hearings, however, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan—while endorsing more billions for the IMF—opposed any “super-regulator” scheme that would interfere with the global market. But depending on the impact of the Asian collapse, Greenspan may be tempted to move in the direction of a global tax. One interim proposal, outlined by Greenspan crony and investment advisor Henry Kaufman in the Washington Post (January 28), is for a “Board of Overseers of Major Institutions and Markets” to “put teeth” into the global economic system. This would work in association with a “reorganized” IMF and World Bank. How would it be paid for? Kaufman didn’t say.

“The private sector is ill-suited to allocate international credit,” proclaimed billionaire George Soros in an article in London’s Financial Times. He proposed a new International Credit Insurance Corporation that would charge a small fee on every international bank loan and use the proceeds to finance rescues of bankrupt economies.

There is a serious problem here, and Soros symbolizes it. Here is a man who never made anything in his life, who became a billionaire through financial speculation and manipulation, through connections to the European super-rich and inside information about the workings of the global capital markets. And perhaps more than any other man, he sparked the current worldwide economic crisis. For economic or political reasons (or a combination of both), Soros was reportedly the leader of an international assault on several national currencies, including that of Malaysia, whose finance minister has accused Soros of being part of an international criminal conspiracy to destabilize his country.

Much of what Soros does internationally, through such vehicles as hedge funds, is not even covered by federal securities laws. Through leaks to the press, he has tried to insist that he, too, lost money when the stock market fell, and he even went on ABC’s Nightline to defend his wheeling and dealing in the global financial markets. But there is no way to verify his claims.

Rather than support “capitalism” in a knee-jerk fashion, conservatives have to recognize that the “free markets” now operating on a global level arc indeed subject to political and financial manipulation by elites who operate largely in the shadows. The Asian crisis may have nothing to do with countries mishandling their economies but everything to do with attempts to force them into the global system by reconfiguring their domestic policies for the benefit of outside investors and speculators. This is not the “free market” in action. Rather—as the Washington Post states—these are the actions of “money changers.”

One thing is certain: when currencies collapse and countries can’t pay their bills to international bankers, the IMF bails out the bankers and investors—and the American taxpayer picks up the tab. The IMF is a curious and secretive bureaucracy run by Frenchman Michel Camdessus, whom the New York Times describes as a “former” socialist. In 1995, he commissioned a report to analyze why the IMF had failed to forecast Mexico’s deteriorating financial situation and then decided to keep the report secret. Perhaps the truth was unbearable. Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the author of two books on the problem of illegal drugs, argues convincingly that the devaluation of the Mexican peso was, in part, a reaction to massive transfers of drug money out of Mexico. Mexico, one of our partners in NAFTA, has been thoroughly corrupted by the drug trade.

In an April 11, 1996, address to the Mid-America Committee in Chicago, Camdessus declared, “Countries as diverse as Chile, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and Korea—and the many other countries around the world that follow the policies advocated by the [International Monetary] Fund —are attracting substantial amounts of private foreign investment.” Of course, two of the countries cited —Indonesia and Korea—have now sought bailouts from the IMF. How’s that for success?

Is the IMF pursuing policies deliberately designed to destroy the sovereignty of nations by making them dependent on the IMF? Or are there factors involved in the global economy over which the IMF, Alan Greenspan, and the Treasury Department have no control? If this is the highest stage of capitalism, then where is the capital and who controls it? No one really seems to know. For Greenspan and his colleagues, the revenue from a global tax may be less important than the system of currency monitoring that would have to be implemented to generate it. Ironically, Soros himself could eventually endorse such a system because of the damage that he and others like him have inflicted on the world. It could be packaged as an attack on the super-rich, when in reality it would affect ordinary Americans’ IRAs, mutual funds, and pensions—any vehicle with money invested abroad.

If such control on a global level is attained, it won’t be called world government, and it won’t necessarily be viewed as harmful. Steven Solomon, a former reporter for Forbes, argues in his book, The Confidence Game, that a “world economic directorate” should manage the economies of the world. Echoing the views of the central bankers and others he interviewed, Solomon endorsed the Tobin Tax on international currency transactions as a source of revenue for those who will be managing our lives for us. He claims the tax could bring in $13 trillion a year.

These staggering sums are possible because the trade in foreign currencies is a market that averages $1.3 trillion per day. Currencies are traded right along with gold, silver, cars, wheat, oil, soybeans, and corn—the so-called “real economy.” But the currency market has its own reality. The Asian crisis demonstrates that a rather small group of people could bring about the collapse of the entire world system, or at least a substantial part of it, for political or financial reasons. Currency traders play with the fates of entire nations. A completely integrated global system will make it possible for a very small group of very rich people to play with the fate of the entire world.

William Greider, a left-wing journalist who wrote a revealing study of the Federal Reserve, has written a book about this new age entitled One World, Ready or Not. But if Greider thinks the problem is global capitalism, his solution is international socialism, for he explicitly endorses the Tobin Tax as a device that might help nations restore a measure of sovereignty over their internal affairs. But this is not a patriotic or nationalist proposal. It is significant that Greider’s book was endorsed by John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which openly favors the imposition of global taxes on the movement of global capital.

Sweeney and Greider (and for that matter, Ralph Nader and congressmen Richard Gephardt and Dave Bonior), have a gripe not with the global economic system and the international bureaucracies that manage it, but with the rules and regulations under which trade occurs. They want trading and financial arrangements in which the United States can impose their views on “social justice issues,” including labor and environmental standards, on other nations through these bureaucracies. The question for them is whether big government will keep up with big business on a global level, and whether global bureaucracies like the U.N., the IMF, and the WTO can be used by the international left to control the activities of multinational corporations, banks, and less-developed countries. They view a global tax as the only viable way to manipulate the global economy.

But globalism, however it’s packaged, inevitably means one thing: transferring capital, wealth, and money out of the United States. The key question on the political left is how fast this process will occur—not whether it will occur. As we have seen over the last several years of the Clinton administration, this process does not mean eliminating jobs; it means eliminating some jobs. Overall, globalization does mean more jobs for people. In the name of feminism and equal opportunity, for instance, it means forcing mothers with children out of their homes into the work force. But wages will be depressed for most, and taxes will be hiked to pay for federal daycare. Then the left will “export” our system to the rest of the world.

The proposed global warming treaty betrays the true motives of the left because it attempts to move wealth and capital to so-called developing countries, led by communist China, at the expense of the United States. In this case, however, American big business and some elements of big labor are saying no, at least until they get an agreement more to their liking. Yet big business said “yes” to NAFTA and GATT and the WTO, and many Fortune 500 corporations are leading members of the Business Council for the U.N. The debate is not over globalization but over who will benefit from it.

Will big business draw the line at a global tax? Big business will have to decide if the benefits—the vague promise of stability in the international financial markets—will outweigh the risks, including the possibility of multinationals themselves being targeted by another variation of a global tax.

At the United Nations, former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali publicly endorsed the Tobin Tax, although his successor, Kofi Annan, refrained from doing so after Congress protested. Currently, the leading cheerleader for global taxes at the world body is James Gustave Speth, administrator of the U.N. Development Program. A founder of the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, he argues that a global tax could help underwrite the global environmental agenda. After I wrote an article for the Washington Post exposing these schemes, Speth tried to insist that the U.N. wasn’t really pushing these ideas. But I had the proof, in the form of a 200-page book advocating the Tobin Tax, edited by officials of Speth’s U.N. Development Program. I also had a transcript of one of his speeches endorsing global taxes as “doable.”

The book, incidentally, includes input from key officials from the World Bank and from one of the investment funds associated with George Soros. It also reports that Stanley Fischer, chief economist of the IMF, has expressed his willingness to consider such a tax, adding “The IMF is in a good position to develop ways in which a transactions tax could work.”

Indeed it is.