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How the Big Banks Can Be Beaten

When the 2008 financial crash slammed the New York City construction industry, Maribel Touré’s husband lost his job as an architect. On top of that, Maribel suffered a serious accident.

But what really plunged the family into financial trouble was sending their daughter to college.

As a child growing up in Mexico, Maribel’s father had repeatedly told her that la educación es la clave — “education is the key.” So she worked hard to obtain a college degree in Mexico and then moved to the United States, where she became a radiology technician.

Maribel wanted the same opportunity for her daughter to obtain “the key.” But high tuition bills strained the family budget and pushed them to the brink of foreclosure.

“The government was helping the banks, but they refused to help me,” Maribel said recently. “I never stopped working and I never stopped paying my taxes — the same taxes the government was giving to the banks.”

Maribel is just one of many Americans who were hurt by the financial crisis and want more done to crack down on the Wall Street greed and recklessness that caused it. That’s why she’s added her support to a new Take on Wall Street campaign that aims to channel widespread public anger over our broken financial system into concrete, bold change.

The campaign’s priority reforms would help ensure that Wall Street pays its fair share of taxes. The additional revenue could be used for urgent needs, such as making college more affordable for families like the Tourés.

A small tax of just a fraction of a percent on each stock and derivative trade, for example, could generate massive revenue while also curbing short-term speculation. For ordinary investors, such a tax would be hardly noticeable. The real targets would be the high-speed traders who now dominate our financial markets while adding no real value to the economy.

Closing tax loopholes that now encourage excessive executive pay could also generate much-needed funds for social programs or public investment to fix our crumbling national roads and bridges.

One of these loopholes lets private equity and hedge fund managers pay a 20 percent capital gains rate on the bulk of their income — just half of the nearly 40 percent top rate the wealthiest Americans normally owe. As a result, billionaire financiers pay a lower tax rate than millions of our country’s teachers, firefighters, and nurses.

Maribel Touré ended her story on a hopeful note. She said that after feeling guilty and ashamed about her financial problems for a long time, she decided to fight back.

She joined New York Communities for Change, a coalition of working families in low- and moderate-income communities that fights for social and economic justice. They worked with local officials to put pressure on her bank, so she was able to modify her mortgage loan in time to save her house.

Her story, she said, shows that if we join together, we can win against Wall Street.

This column is distributed by Other Words.

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

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