Insights & Advice


Robin Hood would be proud

Taxes are not my favorite thing. Like everyone else, I would like to see less, rather than more, taxes in my life. However, there is one tax under consideration in Congress that I fully support

Some call it the “Robin Hood Tax” (part of H.R.3313) because it supposedly taxes the rich and distributes the proceeds to the rest of us peons. It is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Some say the proposal surfaced as a result of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Others credit the late Noble prize-winning economist James Tobin for the idea.  The basic thrust is to impose a financial speculation tax of .03% or $3 in taxes for each $10,000 in financial transactions.

Although it doesn’t sound like much of a tax, its proponents claim it could generate as much as $48 billion or more per year if all G-20 countries signed on to implement the tax.

In Europe, where every nation is scrambling to raise money, the idea is supported by the European Commission in Brussels that would like to see as much as $10 per $10,000 tax in place throughout Europe by 2014. The Italians, under their new Prime Minister Mario Monti, is planning to impose the tax as part of his country’s fiscal reform plan. Both the French and German leaders are on record as backing the idea and even Pope Benedict XVI came out in support of it.

 In the United States, the idea has found surprising support among some strange bedfellows. Bill Gates, George Soros, Ralph Nader, Al Gore, the nurses union and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. among others. As such, a bill to impose a tax on certain trading transactions in financial markets (part of H.R. 3313) is working its way through Congress. All the sponsors of the bill are democrats.

Republicans oppose it, which should come as no surprise since the vast majority of Republicans won’t even read a proposal to raise taxes of any sort.  Surprisingly, the White House and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron are less than enthusiastic about it. Both feel it might jeopardize their country’s leadership positions within financial markets where such a tax may drive traders elsewhere to do their business. The White House also believes it would hurt pension funds and the banks.

In my opinion those are lame arguments and don’t square with the facts. For instance, both Hong Kong and Singapore, two fast-growing financial markets, already charge a $20 per $10,000 transaction tax. Great Britain, the leading financial center in Europe, has had a stamp tax in force for 25 years called the Stamp Duty Reserve Tax on most paperless trades of companies located or registered in the UK. It has not impacted the financial status of those markets one whit.

The Securities Industry is against it (surprise, surprise) warning that such a tax would impede efficiency, depth and liquidity in the markets as well as raise costs to issuers, pensions and investors.

What the tax will do, in my opinion, is reduce the speculation in global markets while generating much-needed revenues. Speculation, in the form of High Frequency Trading (HFT) is the bane of our existence. These traders buy and sell blocks of stocks, bonds and exchange traded funds second by second, minute by minute in large volumes throughout the day generating thin but profitable trades that add up. They could care less about a company’s earnings or its future prospects. When a stock drops, hundreds, if not thousands, of HFTs and day traders jump on the trade, like vultures over a wounded animal, they drive their victim to its knees before going on to their next prey, all in the name of profit.

A $3, $5 or even $10 tax on these transactions will crater that market and do much to reduce global volatility. Who knows, actual investing may come back into vogue and with it the retail investor. Sure, the tax may hurt the little guy but the individual investor usually doesn’t trade ten or fifteen times a day at $10,000 a crack.

Detractors argue that it is not HFT but the circumstances of the market, such as the European crisis, that is responsible for the volatility. I agree that the problems we face worldwide do create volatility and always have, but the markets have never reacted with the level of violent swings and almost daily market volatility that we experience today.

 So I say string your bows, Oh, ye Merry Men, let arrows fly and support this transaction tax.

Posted in Macroeconomics, The Retired Advisor