Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Nurses vs. High-Speed Traders


Of all the street actions leading up to the NATO summit, the one that might seem most perplexing is a nurses’ rally for a tax on securities trades. Financial markets are pretty remote from hospital bedsides, you might think.

Why would nurses get mixed up in an issue like that?

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, says there’s a simple explanation: “The big banks, investment firms and other financial institutions, which ruined the economy with trillion-dollar trades on people’s homes and pensions and similar reckless gambling, should pay for the recovery.”

Nurses have been on the front lines of the crisis, seeing firsthand the health impacts of skyrocketing poverty and record high rates of uninsured Americans.

Their specific tax proposal: a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives and other financial instruments. Even at a rate of 0.5 percent or less, such taxes could generate massive revenues to pay for things ordinary people in Chicago and elsewhere urgently need, such as affordable health care and decent schools.

Endorsers of their Friday rally in Daley Center Plaza include 100 union, environmental, and global health groups.

What these groups see as a practical way to meet society’s basic needs is unlikely to be embraced by Chicago’s trading industry, however. The city has become a Mecca for “high-frequency traders.”

These firms’ computers make thousands of trades per second to exploit fleeting stock price discrepancies.

Because what the nurses are calling a “Robin Hood tax” would apply to each trade, high-frequency traders would be hardest hit. For long-term investors, the cost would be negligible.

One firm with a lot to lose is Citadel. The hedge fund has claimed to account for as much as 10 percent of global equities trading in a single day. Their annual profits from speed strategies have been as much as $1 billion.

Dozens of small high-frequency trading houses have also popped up around the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Thirty of 35 members of the industry’s national lobby, the Principal Traders Group, are based in the Chicago area.

An example is Infinium Capital, a firm notorious for rocking world oil prices by sending thousands of erroneous buy orders to oil markets in a few seconds. It was fined $850,000.

Like many in its industry, Infinium can run circles around ordinary investors because its computers are located next to exchange servers. Those on the same floor as the Merc’s servers can transmit up to 5,000 orders per second with less than 10 milliseconds of lag time.

As support for the Robin Hood tax gains momentum, lobbyists for the trading houses will surely turn their sights on it. The Financial Services Forum has already urged the Obama administration to block such taxes, not just in the United States, but also in Europe.

One of the speed traders’ arguments is that such taxes would make it hard for them to provide the liquidity that oils our nation’s financial machine. But many traditional investors point out that during crises, speed traders drain liquidity just when it’s needed most.

They’re also concerned that the lightning-speed computers could go haywire and trigger another crash.

Nurses vs. high-speed traders. Now there’s a match-up you probably never thought you’d see playing out in the streets of Chicago.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017