Thanks to FOTW being on Steam sale this week, a new raft of players are trying the game for the first time. As such, it seemed like a good chance to talk about one of the original game’s most important cards: Tobin Tax.
As a real-life idea, Tobin Tax has been around for over 40 years, being first proposed in 1972. The initial premise was of a tax levied on currency exchanges, to act as a brake on the type of short-term speculation that led to George Soros and friends breaking the pound in 1992.
The goal of the real-life Tobin Tax (aside from raising lots of money for the government) is to mitigate the sort of catastrophic bubbling that financial systems are inevitably prone to, as residents of the Western and Chinese economies will only too gladly tell you.
It’s an idea that may soon have its day: the EU is planning to introduce a Financial Transactions tax in less than six months’ time (assuming it doesn’t get postponed again). We shall see then how effective it proves.
In the game, the Tobin Tax card is found in the rainbow-coloured “permacards” deck (so called because once played, they remain in an agent slot until their effects complete, or they are cancelled). If you play it in a region, the GEO receives an immediate $100 billion into its coffers, and the region’s inhabitants lose a little bit of respect for your authority. Play it enough times, and there’s a good chance you’ll get kicked out of a region for your money-grubbing ways.
What makes Tobin Tax such a powerful card is that it is the only “instant effect” card you as the Player have access to. Every other card requires you wait a turn until you see any benefit, but Tobin Tax gives you the money immediately. This allows you to juggle different regions’ budgets much more effectively.
In the early game, you can use Tobin Tax to turn the goodwill of rich nations into hard cash, allowing you to pursue a very rapid expansion policy in the poorer regions, and hopefully getting them into a stable situation by the time that the developed regions start sharpening their pitchforks, and you need to cut them some slack.
If you want to beat the higher levels of the game, you need to use Tobin Tax a lot.
Some people have commented that, useful as it is, the Tobin Tax card isn’t actually a very good simulation of Tobin Tax. This is a fair point, as the card’s design occurred purely by mistake.
Whilst messing around in the game editor, I noticed that you could put a negative value into the card cost, which I promptly did in the same spirit a QA Engineer orders beer. As soon as I tried the test card out in game, I realised just how powerful, useful and necessary it was. All it needed now was a name, so we chose the concept which seemed closest to its effect.
Of course, if we were making it now, we’d call it Piketty Tax….