5 Reasons Why The U.S. Needs A Financial Transactions Tax

A duo of Democratic lawmakers have spent the years since the financial crisis calling for a financial transactions tax, a small fee on individual trades that would slow down markets and make them safer for investors and the country as a whole. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced legislation that would institute the financial transactions tax again this year, after 11 European countries announced that they would adopt such a tax.

The Center for American Progress’ Adam Hersh and Jennifer Erickson published a new paper today outlining five reasons why the United States should move to adopt one immediately:

1. It would bring in revenue. Even a small financial transactions tax would bring in substantial amounts of revenue. Taxing stock trades at 0.117 percent, bonds at 0.002 percent, and derivatives and swaps at 0.005 percent would raise $50 billion a year, according to Hersh and Erickson. That’s enough to cover the costs of veteran’s health benefits, or enough to cover more than half of sequestration.

2. It stabilizes financial markets. The explosion of high-frequency trading, in which trades are made by computer algorithms by the millisecond, has made markets more volatile. Even the creator of high-frequency trading has said it has “absolutely no social value.” A financial transactions tax would disincentivize such trading by charging a fee on each trade, quickly making it unprofitable and stabilizing financial markets.

3. It incentivizes investment that drives growth. The tax would make investors more likely to hold their investments in stock portfolios for longer periods of time, creating a longer-term outlook on stocks that would translate into “more investment, more jobs, and higher productivity in the real economy—all of which drives growth,” Hersh and Erickson write. “A tax on financial trading will shift behavior toward investment for the long term, which is better for financing businesses and for stable sustained economic growth.”

4. Other countries already have it. Last month, 11 European Union countries, including Germany and France, announced that they would institute a financial transactions tax, bringing the global total to 23 countries. That mitigates that argument opponents make that such a tax would make American markets less competitive.

5. Business leaders support it. As Hersh and Erickson note, the tax is supported by economists, business leaders, and veterans of the financial industry. Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have both endorsed it, as have mutual-fund titan John Bogle and John Fullerton, a former director at JP Morgan Chase. “A modest financial transaction tax of less than 1 percent would serve as a remarkably efficient tool to achieve needed reform,” Fullerton wrote in 2011.