With House Democrats seriously considering proposing a financial transactions tax (FTT) to pay for a new jobs creation package, the financial services industry has gone on the defensive. The premise behind a financial transactions tax is that it is so small (a fraction of a percentage point) that a normal investor who is buying a stock to hold is barely going to notice it. But an investment bank like Goldman Sachs, which is involved in lots of high-frequency trading, is going to pay a pretty penny. It’s estimated that an FTT can raise about $150 billion annually.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a leading lobbying organization for banks and securities firms, said that such a tax would literally stall the stock market:
Imposing a tax on financial transactions is the wrong idea at the wrong time. Such a tax would likely result in a stalling of the stock market, cutting off companies’ ability to raise capital to fund new investments in plants and equipment, and thus create jobs. Furthermore, it would directly and detrimentally affect millions of Americans by imposing a tax on their savings such as mutual funds, just as they are seeing their investment assets regain value.
An analyst in Washington at Concept Capital, which advises brokers and dealers, told clients that “we cannot completely dismiss the slight possibility it could be part of a House jobs bill,” but vowed that it has “virtually no chance in the Senate.” Even right-wing tea party organizers Americans for Prosperity got into the act, saying that the FTT would be a “disaster.”
Contrary to SIFMA’s assertion, under the proposed plan, the tax would be refunded “for those involving assets kept in individual retirement accounts, education savings accounts and health savings accounts” and the first $100,000 in annual transactions. So “millions of Americans” would not see their savings accounts slammed.
But furthermore, an FTT will make the financial system allocate capital more efficiently, as trading for the simple sake of trading will be more expensive. Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker estimates that an FTT could free up more than $60 billion a year in capital and labor for productive uses.
Finally, I’m not sure where SIFMA gets off suggesting that an FTT would stall the stock market, as the United Kingdom already has both a tax on stock trades and a vibrant stock exchange. Wall Street was saved by taxpayers to the tune of $700 billion dollars, plus untold amounts of guarantees against losses and cheap money from the Federal Reserve. An FTT — the revenues from which could be put towards programs or deficit reduction — seems only fair.