Last Thursday when the market crashed, the volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 7.5 billion shares, obviously much higher than usual. The Nasdaq volume was also unusually high. If we could levy a fee of one penny for each share bought and sold in the United States, the income from the NYSC Thursday’s trades alone would have been $150,000,000.00—no insignificant amount—since each share of the volume has a buyer and a seller. But we can’t do this because Grover Norquist would have a hissy fit, as would most of the care-free Republicans in Congress who support his madness and believe that Norquist is the real Chairman of the Federal Reserve as well as the head of the United States Treasury.
Applying this mini-fee, the three thousand shares I sold of one stock on Thursday would have cost me $30.00 but would have generated $60.00 in fees. The fifty shares of a stock I purchased that day would have added 50 cents to the government’s tax coffers plus the same amount from the seller. I think I can afford this. I know I would even welcome this fee, which I would regard as a consumption tax, paid mostly by the rich and the middle class. The poor are not trading on the stock market. Figure how much could be generated every day from both stock exchanges and how much that would add up to in the course of a year—billions of dollars of revenue.
But we can’t do this in the United States because cold-blooded Republicans believe that the solution to fixing the federal debt is simply to cut, cut, cut—everything. Miserly Grover Norquist, who many people believe is the Antichrist or at the very least the Devil, is like the Tea Party protester whom I heard scream that not one penny of her taxes should be spent on anyone else. That in itself is an interesting idea. Only what you pay in taxes can come back to you in benefits. That would make it possible to eliminate food stamps totally, since the poor do not pay taxes. It would also eliminate unemployment benefits and a host of other programs that Americans at one time regarded as the safety net to support the less fortunate in our country.
The undeclared culture war currently going on in the United States is not only over gay marriage, abortions, or even gun control, but between greedy Republicans and compassionate Democrats—two conflicting philosophies of life, two ways of regarding other people. Help others? Or hit them again harder? Share or take away? Think of yourself or think of someone else? Compassion or greed?
Let’s return to the penny per share fee. Why can’t we call it a fee instead of a tax? If you trade stocks, you pay a tiny user fee for each share. Banks, credit card companies, and airlines add fees to their services all the time, but I certainly don’t hear any rumbling about that from self-centered Republicans. I can think of any number of other fees that would help us control our debt problem—if not substantially reduce it. And, yes, I can also hear those merciless Republicans responding that the difference is that the government is the government and businesses are, well, businesses.
All right, suppose we consider the government as a business, a business that’s losing money and needs to levy a few fees in order to stay in the black. Would that placate un-sharing Grover or would he be against that also? I suspect he would because dispassionate Grover has a dream (and this is according to one of my economist friends): He won’t be happy until he turns the United States into Haiti. That’s his true vision for America. Sadly, he’s succeeding, and he’s keeping the profits for himself.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, at American University, in Washington, D.C.