Tax traders for gambling with your nest egg
The moneyed populace is adroit at getting Congress to shift America’s tax burden to workers, consumers, small businesses — anyone but them. Sen. Russell Long, the former chair of the finance committee, used to quote a little back-country ditty on this point: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that fellow behind the tree.”
Some extremely rich fellows who’ve been hiding behind the tree to avoid taxation for years are the global financial speculators engaged in the high-rolling, computer-driven, fast-buck, multi-trillion dollar, casino gambles that now define Wall Street. Unbeknownst to most people, the dominant investment banks today have been converted into casinos. Rather than amalgamating capital to finance the real economy, the bulk of Wall Street transactions are purely speculative — such as gaming foreign currency exchanges, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, crude oil and farm commodity futures and more.
These transactions create nothing but quick profits for those few big traders who can afford to play, with most of them using automated tracking systems and superfast computers to invest millions of dollars at a time into these exotic financial instruments. They buy into a scheme one day and sell it the next — or even turn the transaction around in a matter of minutes. And we’re talking about huge sums of money every year — a mindboggling $700 trillion according to the Wall Street Journal.
As we saw in the 2007 crash in the housing bubble, such gamesmanship for the few wreaks havoc on the many. And Wall Street’s continuing refusal to invest in productive enterprises has created America’s new normal of a stagnant economy.
One way to restore some sanity is to erect a disincentive for Wall Streeters Gone Wild. A “financial speculation tax” would achieve that… and more. First, the FST would be a very modest assessment of, say, one quarter of one percent per transaction. Every time anyone buys or sells a stock or bond, as well as any derivative, option, future, credit default swap or other financial exotica, a tiny tax of 0.25 or less percent would be applied to the transaction.
Regular folks who have some of their money in the stock market would feel no pinch from this tax, for they make relatively stable, small, long-term investments in stocks and bonds, so the FST would be a trivial charge.
However, the tax would sting the global speculators and profiteers who surge in and out of the market, buying and selling huge volumes of assets at lightning speed. Each of them betting on hundreds of these ultra-short-term transactions every day, grabbing millions of dollars a year by finding a small profit margin on each one. Because of those small margins, an FST add-on of 0.25 percent to buy each asset and another quarter percent to sell it would be a real restraint on their frenzied and dangerous gambling on financial nonsense, helping to stabilize our present flash-crash economy.
FST amounts to a progressive “sin tax” on Wall Street’s casino culture, possibly compelling more capital to move into America’s crying need for job-creating investments in Main Street enterprises.
While the tax on speculators is tiny, it would pay off big for our country. Two economists calculate that it would generate $100-150 billion a year for the public treasury, virtually all of it from speculators. This money is needed to reduce the deficit, while also providing funds to rebuild our infrastructure, create a green-jobs economy, and get America moving forward.
Crazy? From 1914 to 1966, the U.S. had a 0.20 percent tax on the buying and selling of stocks. And in 1932, Congress more than doubled it to help finance job creation and national recovery during the Depression. It worked, helping America prosper. As for being too wild, after the 1987 Wall Street crash, none other than President George Bush the Elder endorsed the idea, as did GOP Senate leader Bob Dole.
It’s time to put the Wall Street tax back on the table. Rather than just cutting back on the middle class and on America’s future — as the no-can-do leaders in Washington propose — let’s invest in the grassroots people to build America up. The money to do that is now being frittered away by speculators on Wall Street. Let’s reclaim a chunk of it for the common good of all the people — 0.25 percent at a time.
Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.