James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

‘A whole mess of crazy’ coming from Capitol Hill

Nov 20, 2009 14:11 UTC

That is how one Congress watcher from the financial industry describes the current state of affairs, from the Fed audit bill to calls for a transaction tax. I think this William Greider piece gets at the heart of it:

The center is not holding. … It feels like carnival time, when up is down and down is up, when humble folks parade as kings and queens and the reigning royals are dressed as clowns. … The most startling evidence of reversal is Chris Dodd, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, who has been a loyal friend of Wall Street and especially Connecticut-based insurance companies. Dodd proposes to strip the Fed of its regulatory functions because of its “abysmal failure” to protect the public, and to replace it with an overarching regulatory administration. …
Taxing Wall Street is a more provocative departure, but some representatives are warming to the idea, drawn to Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio’s appealing Let Wall Street Pay for Wall Street’s Bailout Act. A very small excise tax on all financial transactions–trading stocks, bonds and derivatives–could yield hundreds of billions in revenue. House majority whip Jim Clyburn suggests the securities tax is “a painless way” to pay for highways. …

Senator Bernie Sanders asks another one. If some banks are “too big to fail,” why not just make them smaller? His bill would require Treasury to identify and break up too-big financial institutions within one year. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are reacting with alarm. They do not normally worry over the senator’s progressive thinking, but what’s dizzying is that former Fed chair Alan Greenspan has embraced the same concept. When the socialist from Vermont achieves bipartisan consensus with the right-wing Maestro, can Barack Obama be far behind?

Tobin taxes, the dollar and gold

Nov 9, 2009 19:05 UTC

Perhaps the real reason Gordon Brown suggested a securities transaction tax was to tamp down on currency speculation that driven down global currencies vs. gold. Willam Rees-Mogg explains:

At St Andrews, Gordon Brown unexpectedly advocated the adoption of a global Tobin tax. He was immediately repudiated by Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF. The proposed global Tobin tax has the support of Oxfam and of some left-wing economists, but without American support, it does not have the least chance of being adopted.

The Swedes experimented with a national transaction tax in the 1980s. It did not work because bankers avoided paying tax by transferring transactions to markets in which it was not imposed. The tax had to be abandoned in the early 1990s. This negative history must have been known to Mr Brown; perhaps the clumsiness of his diplomacy reflects the pressure he is feeling.

In Britain, there is an urgent need for a new tax base. One can take almost any very large figure as the sum needed to balance the budget. At some point, Britain will have to raise taxes and cut expenditure. It is hard to see where this additional revenue can be found.

No doubt it would be helpful to Mr Brown if the other governments of the world would join him in policing a worldwide transaction tax on the banks. Britain would be a major beneficiary. Like the US, Britain has a combination of very large bank debts with a very large budget deficit. As a response to the recession, large sums of money have been injected into these economies. That has eroded global confidence in the pound and dollar.

If there is no Tobin tax, it will be difficult to rebuild confidence in these currencies, and the Tobin tax is not going to happen, if only because it would not work. Two factors emerge. Gold will be a stronger reserve currency than paper, and the market will increasingly decide national policies. “You can’t buck the market”, whether in taxes, in dollars or in gold.

COMMENT

If the government’s need more money, put a tax on those firms themselves. Taxing every transaction slows down business. It cuts down the money individuals put into company’s stock, thereby hurting private industry. Why slow down business to get more tax money? It’s stupid.

Posted by Jack Pearson | Report as abusive

A $150 billion a year financial Tobin tax? Really?

Oct 12, 2009 14:15 UTC

The idea of a Tobin tax, a tax on financial transactions, is gaing some mo’ in Congress (via WSJ):

With federal budget deficits soaring, policy makers and other advocates are eyeing the huge sums that could be raised as a way to cover the costs of new initiatives.

Labor unions, in particular the AFL-CIO, have proposed a financial-transactions tax as a way to defray costs of a health-care overhaul. Lawmakers have discussed a similar fee as a way to cover the cost of future financial oversight. Liberal advocates are pushing the tax to pay for new stimulus spending.

Taxing Wall Street’s financial transactions is back on the table. … The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute floated the idea of a national transaction tax that would raise $100 billion to $150 billion a year. The tax, at a rate of 0.1% to 0.25% of the value of the trade, would be levied on all financial transactions such as stock trades, but not on consumer transactions such as with credit cards.

As I wrote last month:

1)  Even a 0.10 percent tax would double the cost of US stock trading where the average commission cost is just under a dime. Welcome back to the pre-Internet early 1990s.

2) It would reduce market volumes and make the equity market less attractive. Kind of dumb thing to do in a time of constrained credit markets where it is tough to raise money.

3) That supposed $100 billion-$150 billion in revenue wouldn’t appear out of thin air. It would come from investment firms who would pass along costs to customers.

4) It would drive trading activity to less costly trading centers, such as the Toronto Stock Exchange (at least if we are talking about the US). Goodbye US jobs.

COMMENT

Some proponents say the purpose of the tax is to shrink the financial sector back to the size of the 1980′s. They admit it will cost investors a “bit” more just like in the 80′s. A researcher found that the average spread in 1986 was $0.53, so that alone will cost the average investor around 2% up front. I would hate to see 90% of financial activity leave the US as it did when Sweden had a transaction tax for only 6 years.

Posted by TripleTaxThePoor | Report as abusive

Tobin taxes: a bad idea whose time should never come

Sep 2, 2009 21:57 UTC

American unions. Democrats, anti-globalization wreckers and British regulators may love the idea of financial transaction, or Tobin, taxes, but not me. Here is why (some of these points came from a great article by  Dan Matthison of Credit Suisse):

1)  Even a 0.10 percent tax would double the cost of US stock trading where the average commission cost is just under a dime. Welcome back to the pre-Internet early 1990s.

2) It would reduce market volumes and make the equity market less attractive. Kind of dumb thing to do in a time of constrained credit markets where it is tough to raise money.

3) That supposed $100 billion-$150 billion in revenue wouldn’t appear out of thin air. It would come from investment firms who would pass along costs to customers.

4) It would drive trading activity to less costly trading centers, such as the Toronto Stock Exchange (at least if we are talking about the US). Goodbye US jobs.

5) It is a solution in search of a problem. Trading didn’t cause the financial crisis. What did? As William Beuiter puts it:

The financial sector is too big throughout the overdeveloped world in part because much of it enjoys a free state guarantee against default on its unsecured debt. Retail deposits are explicitly insured, but at premiums that imply a taxpayer subsidy. Other counterparties of banks and other systemically important financial institutions also benefit from implicit default guarantees. The cost of capital to the banking sector is subsidised, causing the sector to be too large.

6) We are already going to raise cap gains taxes here in the US. A Tobin tax seems like piling on given the huge losses folks have suffered in their portfolios.

Bottom line: Tobin taxes were hijacked by anti-globalists (James Tobin himself says so) who view capitalism and the financial sectors as a leeches on the “real” economy and destructive to developing nations. (I wonder if China agrees?) Today, they are pushed by folks who are looking for a way to raise taxes in a politically palatable way. Just like instead of raising healthcare taxes in the US, we might raise taxes on healthcare insurance companies — who would then pass along the costs. Phony.

COMMENT

When they introduce this tax for sure I will take all my money out of the market. Already I believe this stock market is just a big Ponzi scheme where 95% of the listed companies are only there to fill their pockets. Start-up biotech companies paying themselves salaries of over a million dollars, many other start-up companies never make a dime and squander billions on salaries and bonuses.

Now they want to punish the little guy who is trading and who already pays taxes over the capital gains. People think 0.1% is small but I can tell you that it is impossible to ever create a trading system that can be profitable. For instance with ES mini futures now around 1000 you will have to pay 0.1% of 50000$ = 50$ on top of the commission of 2.4$. Buying and selling 1 future would cost you 104.8$. Before you will start making money the future has to move 2 points.

So they will force market participants to become “long term investors”. Now, we all know that this is just handing out money to these criminal listed companies who reward themselves outrageously and give nothing in return (in 95% of the cases).

Maybe it is a good thing. Introduce a tax and let this fraudulent system collapse all together. Let these criminal listed companies work for a change. Because I tell you when this tax is introduced I am out and will never come back.

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

Tobin taxes, again

Aug 27, 2009 16:51 UTC

If FDIC chief Sheila Bair really wants to cause a regulatory stir, she ought to take a look at what Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, is up to. He wants to trim down the size of the U.K. financial sector (via the Telegraph):

If higher capital requirements did not eliminate “excessive activity and profits”, options could include taxes on financial transactions, so-called Tobin taxes, after the economist James Tobin. The economist suggested a small tax on foreign exchange transactions in the 1970s to discourage speculative trading.

Me: Generally, the theory is that such a transaction-based tax could only work on the international level since market participants would inevitably jurisdiction shop. Here are four possible benefits from a Tobin tax from the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute:

First, it is likely to generate significantly greater revenues. Second, it maintains a level playing field across financial markets so that no individual financial instrument is arbitrarily put at a competitive disadvantage versus another. Third, it is likely to enhance domestic financial market stability by discouraging domestic asset speculation. Fourth, to the extent that advanced economies already put too many real resources into financial dealings, it would cut back on this resource use, freeing these resources for other productive uses.

Interestingly, only the third reason had any appeal initially to economist James Tobin who certainly didn’t view it as a “capitalism tax” the way anti-globalists do. The idea has also received some support in the past from White House economist Lawrence Summers.

COMMENT

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Posted by AndrewSmith | Report as abusive
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