Opinion

The Great Debate

Taxing spoils of the financial sector

If you want less of something, tax it.

That truism is often used as an argument against a tax on profits, or health benefits, or employment, but in the case of the rents extracted from the economy by the financial services industry here’s hoping it proves more of a promise than a threat.

The International Monetary Fund has put forward two new taxes on banks to pay the costs of future rescues, one of which is a fairly conventional “Financial Stability Contribution,” with an initial flat levy on all banks, to be refined later into something with more precise institutional and systemic risk adjustments.

More interestingly, the IMF is also proposing a “Financial Activities Tax,” (FAT) a tax on bank pay and profits which, if correctly designed, could serve as a tax on rents — the unwarranted spoils — of the financial sector.

In economics the concept of “rents”, essentially the extra money a given individual or industry is able to extract from its clients above what it would if there were perfect competition, is central. If there is only one cable television provider in your neighborhood you will know what I am talking about.

In financial services, the evidence is that rents are huge, in part because of impaired competition and in part because increasingly complex financial services allow banks to sell clients products that they don’t understand, may not need and will almost always be over-charged for. Bank employees in turn charge hefty rents to their bosses, boards and shareholders, each of whom, as you journey up the organizational chart, understand less about the complex services, and like clients, are then less able to defend their own interests.

from The Great Debate UK:

“Green growth” strategy viable for African economy

michael_keating -Michael Keating is director of the Africa Progress Panel. The opinions expressed are his own.-

After a decade of solid progress Africa is now facing the daunting task - at a time of economic crisis - of maintaining stability, economic growth and employment, addressing food security and combating climate change. No country on the continent is escaping the impact of volatile fuel and commodity prices, the drop in global demand and trade.

The global economic crisis, however, is serving as a wake-up call for both African leaders and their international partners. The Africa Progress Panel’s 2009 report, launched Wednesday in Cape Town by panel members Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and Linah Mohohlo, argues just this.

Liquidity & inflation, lessons from the 1940s

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Comparisons between the current downturn and the Great Contraction of 1929-33 have multiplied as commentators and investors have tried to forecast the recession’s likely depth and duration. But as the U.S. economy shows signs of stabilising and attention switches to future inflation the more useful comparison is actually with the 1940s.

The massive build up of highly liquid assets (cash and bank balances) during the Second World War is the closest parallel to the current escalation of bank reserves as a result of quantitative easing programmes in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The relatively modest pick up in consumer prices after the war ended may hold lessons for the outlook for inflation over the next five years.

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