FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Fix the Debt’s Blind Spot

At this point everyone knows about Fix the Debt. It is a collection of corporate CEOs put together by Peter Peterson, the Wall Street private equity mogul. Ostensibly they want to reduce budget deficits and the national debt, but for some reason their attention always seems focused on cutting Social Security and Medicare. While some in this group will allow for minor tax increases, budget cuts are explicitly a priority, with these two programs firmly in their crosshairs.

Given that the stated goal of this group is to reduce budget deficits, it is worth asking why taxes don’t figure more prominently on their agenda. After all, the United States ranks near the bottom of wealthy countries in its tax take as a share of GDP. It is also worth asking why one tax in particular, a financial transactions tax, never seems to get mentioned in anything the group or its members do.

This omission is striking because so many others in budget debates in the United States and around the world regularly suggest such a tax. There is a long list of highly respected economists who have advocated such taxes, starting with John Maynard Keynes. The list includes many Nobel Prize winners, most notably James Tobin who wrote several papers arguing for such a tax as a way to both raise revenue and slow speculative trading.

Financial transactions taxes are hardly new. The United Kingdom has had a tax on stock trades in place since 1694. It still imposes a tax of 0.5 percent on trades. Relative to the size of its economy the tax raises the equivalent of $30-40 billion a year in the United States. Many other countries, including India and China, have financial transactions taxes. The United States used to have a tax of 0.04 percent on stock trades until 1966 and still has a very small tax that is used to finance the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the wake of the financial crisis there has been renewed interest in a financial speculation tax. The European Union recently decided to move ahead with implementing a tax which will first be imposed in 2015 or 2016. There is also considerable interest in the United States. While financial speculation taxes have been included as a funding mechanism in many bills there were two standalone bills introduced in Congress last year.

A bill introduced by Tom Harkin in the Senate and Peter DeFazio in the house would apply a tax rate of 0.03 percent (that is 3 cents on $100 dollars) on trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives. The Congressional Joint Tax Committee projected that the tax would raise close to $40 billion a year. That would come to $400 billion over a decade. Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison introduced a bill that would scale the tax rate by asset, starting with the same 0.5 percent rate the U.K. imposes stock trades. This bill could raise as much as $180 billion a year.

The concept of a transactions tax has received considerable support from grassroots groups around the country. It has also been endorsed by many unions, including the National Nurses United, SEIU, and the AFL-CIO.

Given all the interest in a financial speculation tax it is striking that the Fix the Debt crew never even mention it when discussing their efforts at deficit reduction. That seems to cry out for an explanation.

One possibility is that they haven’t heard of it. That one is too out in space to take seriously. Even the IMF has written on financial transactions taxes and in fact advocated increasing taxes on the financial sector. How could the Debt Fixers not know about the proposals for financial transactions taxes?

It is possible that they have a slam dunk argument that a financial speculation tax would just be bad news for the economy or really wouldn’t raise any revenue. If so, it would be nice if they could share it with the rest of us so that we didn’t waste our time giving FSTs further consideration. After all, in addition to all the politicians and policy types to who have been devoting time to the issue, most of the European Union is about to put a tax into law in 2-3 years. If the Debt Fixers know of some horrible problem that all the researchers, including the IMF, have missed they would do us an enormous favor by setting us straight.

Then there is possibility number three. Many of the debt fixers, such as Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles and Peter Peterson, the master debt fixer himself, have longstanding ties to the financial industry. They may not be interested in a financial speculation tax for the simple reason that it could eat into their bread and butter. We should no more expect the Debt Fixers to support a FST than we would expect a farmers’ lobby to support an end to farm subsidies.

On the plausibility scale, explanation number three would seem to be the most credible. We have a group of rich finance types using their wealth to advance their agenda. There’s nothing new in this story, that’s the way Washington politics has always worked. The question we should then ask is, why do the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and the Sunday morning talk shows take these people seriously?

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

More articles by:

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail