Boost Taxes on Some Financial-Crisis Creators

The economic
crisis we're enduring is very costly. America faces a critical choice:
Who should pay the bill?

We can stick it to the poor by ripping
our safety net. We can kick the can down the road by short-changing
public education and infrastructure. Or we can find more equitable,
forward-looking solutions.

One place to look for new revenue: the
financial sector that got us into this mess in the first place. Wall
Street is one of the most under-taxed sectors of our economy.

about the tax bills that ordinary Americans pay when they buy things
they need every day. When they fill up their gasoline tanks so they can
get to work, they pay an average tax of 13.2 percent a gallon. When they
buy a winter coat, they pay state sales tax of an average of 5.6

Compare that with the tax rate hedge-fund investors pay
when they buy 100,000 shares of stock. The fees are so small it takes an
expert with a magnifying glass to find them in their financial
statements - $0.0042 per transaction.

One way to remedy this
imbalance is through a financial-speculation tax. This would place a
very small levy (0.25 percent or less) on each trade of stocks,
derivatives, currency or other financial instruments. In addition to
generating big money for urgent needs, the tax could discourage the
short-term speculation that can lead to bubbles.

One Washington
think tank has estimated the potential revenues from a
financial-speculation tax at $177 billion a year.

Some argue that
such a tax would destroy thousands of day-trader jobs, since they
operate on razor-thin margins - picking up pennies off each of their
hundreds, thousands, even millions of trades per day. Many of those jobs
probably would disappear.

But I think that it's time to take a
hard look at the social value of such financial activities. Wall
Street's oversized paychecks have been a strong magnet for the best and
brightest among our university graduates, including many with
engineering and math degrees. Instead of working to develop
renewable-energy technologies or more efficient transportation systems,
they spend their days designing computer programs to swap one currency
for another or inventing newfangled derivatives like the ones that blew
up our economy.

In other words, making money from money. What the
financial sector is supposed to do is serve the "real economy" - the
part that produces goods and services we all need. Instead, Wall Street
now dominates the rest of the economy. And big-time speculators are in
the driver's seat. A small speculation tax would target these
high-flyers, raising the cost of their risky activities enough to
discourage the most dangerous behavior. For ordinary investors the costs
would be negligible, like a tiny insurance fee against the crashes
caused by speculators.

The future health of the U.S. economy may
very well depend on how we decide to pay for this crisis. It seems only
fair that those most responsible for the mess should bear the bulk of
the clean-up costs.

© 2023 Providence Journal