Here’s a way to raise hundreds of billions of dollars, get Wall Street to shoulder more of the responsibility for America’s economic recovery, and curb the kind of dangerous high-frequency trading that puts the financial system at risk. A small tax on sales of stocks, bonds, and complex financial instruments could do all of that, at no noticeable cost to ordinary investors or families.
Americans pay sales taxes on all kinds of goods and services. Yet no such taxes apply to Wall Streeters who buy or sell financial securities. That’s just one of the special privileges that explain why the financial industry, which currently accounts for more than 30 percent of total corporate profits, pays only about 18 percent of corporate taxes and contributes less than 2 percent of total tax revenues.
At a time of real and threatened cuts in programs on which low- and middle-income Americans depend, a speculation tax (also known as a financial transaction tax or FTT) could generate significant revenue from a woefully undertaxed sector of the economy. Revenue and fairness aside, such a tax could help move the financial markets away from dangerous and unproductive short-term bets and back toward job creation and useful private and public investment.