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A Tobin tax, suggested by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin, is a concept initially associated with a tax on all spot conversions of one currency into another. The tax is intended to put a penalty on short-term financial round-trip excursions into another currency. Tobin suggested his currency transaction tax in 1972 in his Janeway Lectures at Princeton, shortly after the Bretton Woods system of monetary management ended in 1971.[1] Prior to 1971, one of the chief features of the Bretton Woods system was an obligation for each country to adopt a monetary policy that maintained the exchange rate of its currency within a fixed value—plus or minus one percent—in terms of gold. Then, on August 15, 1971, United States President Richard Nixon announced that the United States dollar would no longer be convertible to gold, effectively ending the system. This action created the situation whereby the U.S. dollar became the sole backing of currencies and a reserve currency for the member states of the Bretton Woods system, leading the system to collapse in the face of increasing financial strain in that same year. In that context, Tobin suggested a new system for international currency stability, and proposed that such a system include an international charge on foreign-exchange transactions.

In 2001, in another context, just after "the nineties' crises in Mexico, South East Asia and Russia,"[2] which included the 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and the 1998 Russian financial crisis, Tobin summarized his idea:

"The tax on foreign exchange transactions was devised to cushion exchange rate fluctuations. The idea is very simple: at each exchange of a currency into another a small tax would be levied - let's say, 0.5% of the volume of the transaction. This dissuades speculators as many investors invest their money in foreign exchange on a very short-term basis. If this money is suddenly withdrawn, countries have to drastically increase interest rates for their currency to still be attractive. But high interest is often disastrous for a national economy, as the nineties' crises in Mexico, South East Asia and Russia have proven. My tax would return some margin of manoeuvre to issuing banks in small countries and would be a measure of opposition to the dictate of the financial markets." [3][4][5][6][7]

Though James Tobin suggested the rate as "let's say 0.5%," in that interview setting, others have tried to be more precise in their search for the optimum rate.

Contents

Concepts and definitions

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Tobin's concept

James Tobin’s purpose in developing his idea of a currency transaction tax was to find a way to manage exchange-rate volatility. In his view, "currency exchanges transmit disturbances originating in international financial markets. National economies and national governments are not capable of adjusting to massive movements of funds across the foreign exchanges, without real hardship and without significant sacrifice of the objectives of national economic policy with respect to employment, output, and inflation.”[1]

Tobin saw two solutions to this issue. The first was to move “toward a common currency, common monetary and fiscal policy, and economic integration.”[1] The second was to move “toward greater financial segmentation between nations or currency areas, permitting their central banks and governments greater autonomy in policies tailored to their specific economic institutions and objectives.”[1] Tobin’s preferred solution was the former one but he did not see this as politically viable so he advocated for the latter approach: “I therefore regretfully recommend the second, and my proposal is to throw some sand in the wheels of our excessively efficient international money markets.”[1]

Tobin’s method of “throwing sand in the wheels” was to suggest a tax on all spot conversions of one currency into another, proportional to the size of the transaction. He said:

It would be an internationally agreed uniform tax, administered by each government over its own jurisdiction. Britain, for example, would be responsible for taxing all inter-currency transactions in Eurocurrency banks and brokers located in London, even when sterling was not involved. The tax proceeds could appropriately be paid into the IMF or World Bank. The tax would apply to all purchases of financial instruments denominated in another currency---from currency and coin to equity securities. It would have to apply, I think, to all payments in one currency for goods, services, and real assets sold by a resident of another currency area. I don’t intend to add even a small barrier to trade. But I see offhand no other way to prevent financial transactions disguised as trade.[1]

In the development of his idea, Tobin was influenced by the earlier work of John Maynard Keynes on general financial transaction taxes:

"I am a disciple of Keynes, and he, in his famous chapter XII of the General Theory on Employment Interest and Money, had already prescribed a tax on transactions, with the aim of linking investors to their actions in a lasting fashion. In 1971 I transferred this idea to exchange markets."[3][4]

Keynes' concept stems from 1936 when he proposed that a transaction tax should be levied on dealings on Wall Street, where he argued that excessive speculation by uninformed financial traders increased volatility. For Keynes (who was himself a speculator) the key issue was the proportion of ‘speculators’ in the market, and his concern that, if left unchecked, these types of players would become too dominant ([8], p. 104-105. Keynes writes:

"Speculators] may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the situation is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation." ([8], p. 104

"The introduction of a substantial government transfer tax on all transactions might prove the most serviceable reform available, with a view to mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise in the United States." ([8], p. 105)

Variations on Tobin tax idea

The Spahn tax

According to Paul Bernd Spahn, "Analysis has shown that the Tobin tax as originally proposed is not viable and should be laid aside for good." Furthermore, he said "it is virtually impossible to distinguish between normal liquidity trading and speculative "noise" trading. If the tax is generally applied at high rates, it will severely impair financial operations and create international liquidity problems, especially if derivatives are taxed as well. A lower tax rate would reduce the negative impact on financial markets, but not mitigate speculation where expectations of an exchange rate change exceed the tax margin."[9]

In 1995, Spahn suggested an alternative involving "a two-tier rate structure consisting of a low-rate financial transactions tax, plus an exchange surcharge at prohibitive rates as a piggyback. The latter would be dormant in times of normal financial activities, and be activated only in the case of speculative attacks. The mechanism allowing the identification of abnormal trading in world financial markets would make reference to a "crawling peg" with an appropriate exchange rate band. The exchange rate would move freely within this band without transactions being taxed. Only transactions effected at exchange rates outside the permissible range would become subject to tax. This would automatically induce stabilizing behavior on the part of market participants."[9]

Special Drawing Rights

On September 19, 2001, retired speculator George Soros put forward a proposal, Special Drawing Rights or SDRs that the rich countries would pledge for the purpose of providing international assistance, without necessarily dismissing the Tobin tax idea. He stated, "I think there is a case for a Tobin tax... (but) it is not at all clear to me that a Tobin tax would reduce volatility in the currency markets. It is true that it may discourage currency speculation but it would also reduce the liquidity of the marketplace." [10]

Scope of the Tobin concept

The term "Tobin tax" has sometimes been used interchangeably with the idea of a general financial transaction tax (FTT). An example of this is shown in the following media description of a 2009 European Union summit:

European Union leaders urged the International Monetary Fund on Friday to consider a global tax on financial transactions in spite of opposition from the US and doubts at the IMF itself. In a communiqué issued after a two-day summit, the EU’s 27 national leaders stopped short of making a formal appeal for the introduction of a so-called “Tobin tax” but made clear they regarded it as a potentially useful revenue-raising instrument.[11]

Other times "Tobin tax" has been used to refer to a more a specific currency transaction tax (CTT) in the manner of Tobin's original idea. An example of this is shown in the following:

"The concept of a Tobin tax has experienced a resurgence in the discussion on reforming the international financial system. In addition to many legislative initiatives in favour of the Tobin tax in national parliaments, possible ways to introduce a Tobin-style currency transaction tax (CTT) are being scrutinised by the United Nations...."[12]

Comparing Currency Transaction Taxes and Financial Transaction Taxes

Research evidence

In 2003, researchers like Aliber et al proposed that empirical evidence on the observed effects of the already introduced and abolished stock transaction taxes and a hypothetical CTT (Tobin) can probably be treated interchangeably.[13] They did not find any evidence on the differential effects of introducing or removing, stock transactions taxes or a hypothetical currency (Tobin) tax on any subset of markets or all markets.

Researchers have used models belonging to the GARCH family[14][15][16] to describe both the volatility behavior of stock market returns and the volatility behavior of foreign exchange] rates. This is used as evidence that the similarity between currencies and stocks in the context of a tax designed to curb volatility such as a CTT (or FTT in general) can be inferred from the almost identical (statistically indistinguishable) behavior of the volatilities of equity and exchange rate returns.

Practical considerations

Hanke et al. state that "[t]he economic consequences of introducing a [currency-only] Tobin Tax are [..] completely unknown, as such a tax has not been introduced on any real foreign exchange market so far".[17] At the same time, even in the case of stock transaction taxes, where some empirical evidence is available, researchers warn that "it is hazardous to generalize limited evidence when debating important policy issues such as the transaction taxes".[18][19]

According to Schulmeister, Stephan, Margit Schratzenstaller, and Oliver Picek (2008), from the practical viewpoint it is no longer possible to introduce a non-currency transactions tax (even if foreign exchange transactions were formally exempt) since the advent of currency derivatives and currency exchange traded funds. All of these would have to be taxed together under a "non-currency" financial transactions tax (such as under certain proposals] in the U.S. in 2009 which, although not intending to tax currencies directly, would still do so due to taxation of currency futures and currency exchange traded funds). Because these three groups of instruments are nearly perfect substitutes, if at least one of these groups were to be exempt, it would likely attract most market volume from the taxed alternatives ([20], p. 6).

According to Schulmeister, Stephan, Margit Schratzenstaller, and Oliver Picek (2008), restricting the financial transactions tax to foreign exchange only (as envisaged originally by Tobin) would not be desirable.([20], p. 6). According to them, a "general FTT seems [..] more attractive than a specific transaction tax" (such as a currency-only Tobin tax), because it could reduce tax avoidance (i.e., substitution of similar untaxed instruments), could significantly increase the tax base and could be implemented more easily on organized exchanges than in a dealership market like the global foreign exchange market. (See also the discussion of tax avoidance as it relates to a currency transaction tax.)

Evaluating the Tobin tax as a Currency Transaction Tax

See also Evaluating the Tobin tax as a general Financial Transaction Tax

Effect on volatility

One of the main economic hypotheses raised in favor of financial transaction taxes is that such taxes reduce return volatility, leading to an increase of long-term investor utility or more predictable levels of exchange rates. The impact of such a tax on volatility is of particular concern because the main justification given for this tax by Tobin was to improve the autonomy of macroeconomic policy by curbing international currency speculation and its destabilizing effect on national exchange rates.[1] Economist Korkut Erturk states:

"if the Tobin Tax is not stabilizing, then much of the rest of the discussion on its feasibility and other related issues are probably moot."[21]

Theoretical models

Most studies of the likely impact of the Tobin tax on financial markets volatility have been theoretical – researches conducted laboratory simulations or constructed economic models. Some of these theoretical studies have concluded that a transaction tax could reduce volatility by crowding out speculators[22] or eliminating individual 'noise traders'[23] but that it 'would not have any impact on volatility in case of sufficiently deep global markets such as those in major currency pairs[21], unlike in case of less liquid markets, such as those in stocks and (especially) options, where volatility would probably increase with reduced volumes[24][25]. Behavioral finance theoretical models, such as those developed by Wei and Kim (1997) [26] or Westerhoff and Dieci (2004) [27] suggest that transaction taxes can reduce volatility, at least in the foreign exchange market. In contrast, Lanne and Vesala (2006) argue that a transaction tax "is likely to amplify, not dampen, volatility in foreign exchange markets", because such tax penalises informed market participants disproportionately more than uninformed ones, leading to volatility increases.[28]

Empirical studies

In most of the available empirical studies however, no statistically significant causal link has been found between an increase in transaction costs (transaction taxes or government-controlled minimum brokerage commissions) and a reduction in volatility - in fact a frequent unintended consequence observed by 'early adopters' after the imposition of a financial transactions tax (see Werner, 2003) [29] has been an increase in the volatility of stock market returns, usually coinciding with significant declines in liquidity (market volume) and thus in taxable revenue (Umlauf, 1993). [30]

For a recent evidence to the contrary, see, e.g., Liu and Zhu (2009), [31] which may be affected by selection bias given that their Japanese sample is subsumed by a research conducted in 14 Asian countries by Hu (1998), [32] showing that "an increase in tax rate reduces the stock price but has no significant effect on market volatility". As Liu and Zhu (2009) point out, [...] the different experience in Japan highlights the comment made by Umlauf (1993) that it is hazardous to generalize limited evidence when debating important policy issues such as the STT [securities transaction tax] and brokerage commissions."

See also "Tobin tax proponents response to empirical evidence on volatility"

Are different players in the economy operating at cross purposes to each other?

In 1994, Canadian economist Rodney Schmidt noted that "in two-thirds of all the outright forward and [currency] swap transactions, the money moved into another currency for fewer than seven days. In only 1 per cent did the money stay for as long as one year. While the volatile exchange rates caused by all this rapid movement posed problems for national economies, it was the bread and butter of those playing the currency markets. Without constant fluctuations in the currency markets, Schmidt noted, there was little opportunity for profit."[33]

"This certainly seemed to suggest the interests of currency traders and the interests of ordinary citizens [in national economies] were operating at cross-purposes."[33]

"Schmidt also noted another interesting aspect of the foreign- exchange market: The dominant players were the private banks, which had huge pools of capital and access to information about currency values. Since much of the market involved moving large sums of money (typically in the tens of millions of dollars) for very short periods of time (often less than a day), banks were perfectly positioned to participate. Among swap transactions, which represented a major chunk of the foreign exchange market, 86 per cent of the transactions were actually between banks."[33]

Historical attempts to reduce speculation via fixed exchange rates

Matthew Sinclair, Research Director of TaxPayers' Alliance, notes that "one reason why few have supported a Tobin tax is that worries about foreign exchange speculation have slowly subsided as more countries have moved towards floating exchange rates, which do more to limit the potential for exchange rate speculation than a Tobin tax possibly could. Attempts to fix rates such as – in the 1980s and 1990s – the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) meant that we got large and sudden movements in exchange rates when speculators sensed that a peg could not be maintained, rather than the more fluid shifts of today." [34]

Is there an optimum Tobin tax rate?

When James Tobin was interviewed by Der Spiegel in 2001, the tax rate he suggested was 0.5%.[4][5][6] His use of the phrase "let's say" ("sagen wir") indicated that he was not, at that point, in an interview setting, trying to be precise. Others have tried to be more precise or practical in their search for the Tobin tax rate.

It should be noted that tax rates of the magnitude of 0.1%-1% have been proposed by normative economists, without addressing how practicable these would be to implement. In positive economics studies however, where due reference was made to the prevailing market conditions, the resulting tax rates have been significantly lower.

According to Garber (1996), competitive pressure on transaction costs (spreads) in currency markets has reduced these costs to fractions of a basis point. For example the EUR.USD currency pair trades with spreads as tight as 1/10th of a basis point, i.e. with just a 0.00001 difference between the bid and offer price, so "a tax on transactions in foreign exchange markets imposed unilaterally, 6/1000 of a basis point (or 0.00006%) is a realistic maximum magnitude.[35] Similarly Shvedov (2004) concludes that "even making the unrealistic assumption that the rate of 0.00006% causes no reduction of trading volume, the tax on foreign currency exchange transactions would yield just $4.3 billion a year, despite an annual turnover in dozens of trillion dollars.[36]

Accordingly, one of the modern Tobin tax versions, called the Sterling Stamp Duty, sponsored by certain UK charities, has a rate of 0.005% "in order to avoid market distortions", i.e., 1/100th of what Tobin himself envisaged in 2001. Sterling Stamp Duty supporters argue that this tax rate would not adversely affect currency markets and could still raise large sums of money.[37]

The same rate of 0.005% was proposed for a currency transactions tax (CTT) in a report prepared by Rodney Schmidt for The North-South Institute (a Canadian NGO whose "research supports global efforts to [..] improve international financial systems and institutions"),[38]. Schmidt (2007) used the observed negative relationship between bid-ask spreads and transactions volume in foreign exchange markets to estimate the maximum "non-distruptive rate" of a currency transaction tax. A CTT tax rate designed with a pragmatic goal of raising revenue for various development projects, rather than to fulfill Tobin's original goals (of "slowing the flow of capital across borders" and "preventing or managing exchange rate crises"), should avoid altering the existing "fundamental market behavior", and thus, according to Schmidt, must not exceed 0.00005, i.e., the observed levels of currency transactions costs (bid-ask spreads).[39]

Assuming that all currency market participants incur the same maximum level of transaction costs (the full cost of the bid-ask spread), as opposed to earning them in their capacity of market makers, and assuming that no untaxed substitutes exist for spot currency markets transactions (such as currency futures and currency exchange traded funds), Schmidt (2007) finds that that a CTT rate of 0.00005 would be nearly volume-neutral, reducing foreign exchange transaction volumes by only 14%. Such volume-neutral CTT tax would raise relatively little revenue though, estimated at around $33 bn annually, i.e., an order of magnitude less than the "carbon tax [which] has by far the greatest revenue-raising potential, estimated at $130-750 bn anually". The author warns however that both these market-based revenue estimates "are necessarily speculative", and he has more confidence in the revenue-raising potential of "The International Finance Facility (IFF) and International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm)."[39]

In 2000, a representative of another "pro-Tobin tax" non-governmental organization stated that Tobin's idea was "to ‘throw some sand in the wheels’ of speculative flows. For a currency transaction to be profitable [to the speculator], the change in value of the currency must be greater than the proposed tax. Since speculative currency trades occur on much smaller margins, the Tobin Tax would reduce or eliminate the profits and, logically, the incentive to speculate. The tax is designed to help stabilize exchange rates by reducing the volume of speculation. And it is set deliberately low so as not to have an adverse effect on trade in goods and services or long-term investments."[40]

Is the tax easy to avoid?

Although economist James Tobin said his idea of a small tax on every foreign exchange transaction, in order to reduce financial sector volatility, was unfeasible in practice, Joseph Stiglitz said, on October 5, 2009, modern technology meant that was no longer the case. Joseph Stiglitz (recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979, and former Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank) said, the tax is "much more feasible today" than a few decades ago, when Tobin recanted.[41] In the year 2000, "eighty per cent of foreign-exchange trading [took] place in just seven cities. Agreement by [just three cities,] London, New York and Tokyo alone, would capture 58 per cent of speculative trading."[42]

However, on November 7, 2009, at the G20 finance ministers summit in Scotland, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Khan, said, "transactions are very difficult to measure and so it's very easy to avoid a transaction tax,"[43]

When presented with the problem of speculators shifting operations to offshore tax havens, a representative of a “pro Tobin tax” NGO argued as follows: "Agreement between nations could help avoid the relocation threat, particularly if the tax were charged at the site where dealers or banks are physically located or at the sites where payments are settled or ‘netted’. The relocation of Chase Manhattan Bank to an offshore site would be expensive, risky and highly unlikely – particularly to avoid a small tax. Globally, the move towards a centralized trading system means transactions are being tracked by fewer and fewer institutions. Hiding trades is becoming increasingly difficult. Transfers to tax havens like the Cayman Islands could be penalized at double the agreed rate or more. Citizens of participating countries would also be taxed regardless of where the transaction was carried out."[40] In early December, 2009, economist Stephany Griffith-Jones agreed that the "greater centralisation and automisation of the exchanges' and banks' clearing and settlements systems....makes avoidance of payment more difficult and less desirable."[44]

Evaluating the Tobin tax as a general Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)

See also Evaluating the Tobin tax specifically as a Currency Transaction Tax

Practical experience in implementing Tobin taxes in the form of general financial transaction taxes

In July, 2006, analyst Marion G. Wrobel examined the actual international experiences of various countries in implementing financial transaction taxes.[45] Wrobel's paper highlighted the Swedish experience with financial transaction taxes. In January 1984, Sweden introduced a 0.5% tax on the purchase or sale of an equity security. Thus a round trip (purchase and sale) transaction resulted in a 1% tax. In July 1986 the rate was doubled. In January 1989, a considerably lower tax of 0.002% on fixed-income securities was introduced for a security with a maturity of 90 days or less. On a bond with a maturity of five years or more, the tax was 0.003%.

The revenues from taxes were disappointing; for example, revenues from the tax on fixed-income securities were initially expected to amount to 1,500 million Swedish kroner per year. They did not amount to more than 80 million Swedish kroner in any year and the average was closer to 50 million.[46] In addition, as taxable trading volumes fell, so did revenues from capital gains taxes, entirely offsetting revenues from the equity transactions tax that had grown to 4,000 million Swedish kroner by 1988. [47]

On the day that the tax was announced, share prices fell by 2.2%. But there was leakage of information prior to the announcement, which might explain the 5.35% price decline in the 30 days prior to the announcement. When the tax was doubled, prices again fell by another 1%. These declines were in line with the capitalized value of future tax payments resulting from expected trades. It was further felt that the taxes on fixed-income securities only served to increase the cost of government borrowing, providing another argument against the tax.

Even though the tax on fixed-income securities was much lower than that on equities, the impact on market trading was much more dramatic. During the first week of the tax, the volume of bond trading fell by 85%, even though the tax rate on five-year bonds was only 0.003%. The volume of futures trading fell by 98% and the options trading market disappeared. On 15 April 1990, the tax on fixed-income securities was abolished. In January 1991 the rates on the remaining taxes were cut in half and by the end of the year they were abolished completely. Once the taxes were eliminated, trading volumes returned and grew substantially in the 1990s.

Who would gain and who would lose if the Tobin tax (FTT) were implemented?

Views of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) expressed in open letter to IMF

The APEC forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region expressed it views in a letter to the IMF on 15 February 2010. The APEC Business Advisory Council stated, "We believe that imposition of a global tax is an inappropriate response and a further burden to industries, especially small and medium enterprises, and consumers in the wake of the global financial crisis. We also believe that the proposals under consideration would be harmful for a range of additional reasons, including the practical challenges of implementing any such tax."[48]

In addition, APEC expressed further concerns in the letter:-

  • Key to the APEC agenda is reduction of transaction costs. The proposal is directly counterproductive to this goal.
  • It would have a very significant negative impact on real economic recovery, as these additional costs are likely to further reduce financing of business activities at a time when markets remain fragile and prospects for the global economy are still uncertain.
  • Industries and consumers as a whole would be unfairly penalized.
  • It would further weaken financial markets and reduce the liquidity, particularly in the case of illiquid assets.
  • Effective implementation would be virtually impossible, especially as opportunities for cross-border arbitrage arise from decisions of certain jurisdictions not to adopt the tax or to exempt particular activities.
  • There is no global consensus why a tax is needed and what the revenue would be used for, and therefore no understanding how much is needed. Any consequential tax would need to be supported by clear consensus for its application.

Note - APEC's 21 Member Economies are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Republic of the Philippines, The Russian Federation, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States of America, Viet Nam.

Would 'regular investors like you and me' lose?

An economist speaking out against the common belief that investment banks would bear the burden of a Tobin tax is Simon Johnson, Professor of Economics at the MIT and a former Chief Economist at the IMF, who in a BBC Radio 4 interview discussing banking system reforms presented his views on the Tobin tax

Evan Davis, BBC Radio 4:

"There are various ideas around, aren't there, one of them is a Tobin tax, it's been associated with [the British] Prime Minister - a tax on global financial transactions. Is that a response, do you think, to the problems created by large banks and big bail-outs?"

Prof. Simon Johnson:

"I think it's hmm... partially a response, or an attempt to respond, that's not my preferred [...] approach to the problem, I think that would lead to a lot of distortions, a lot of moving of activities offshore. If you did it at the full level of the G20, you might be able to get some traction. Evasion at that level would be hard. But still I think it doesn't address the core problem which is really about financial institutions that are 'Too Big to Fail'. Financial transaction tax is more of a tax on regular people like you and me."[49] [50]

Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Bill

Some empirical researchers have expressed concern that financial transaction taxes would in practice become entirely pass-through, ultimately increasing transactions costs for long-term investors, rather then merely creating distortions and reducing market efficiency. Princeton University Professor of Economics Burton G. Malkiel, author of a classic investment book A Random Walk Down Wall Street and several publications on mutual fund performance, commented on the financial transaction tax contained within the December 3, 2010 US domestic proposal by Peter DeFazio called "Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Bill." Malkiel predicted that:

"'Wall Street' would not foot the bill for the presumed $150 billion [transactions] tax. In fact, the tax would simply be added to the cost of doing business, burdening all investors, including 401(k) plans, IRAs and mutual funds."[51]

Professor Malkiel then explained the hidden tax transmission process whereby financial transactions taxes can become pass-through, in spite of regulators' best efforts to prevent it (e.g., through exemptions for investors, pension plans and mutual funds):

"high-frequency traders are not villains—indeed, they play an important role in improving market efficiency. High-frequency traders scour markets for minor mispricings and arbitrage trading opportunities. They buy and sell stocks in an instant, hoping to earn pennies on a trade. Far from destabilizing or creating volatility in the market, their actions significantly increase trading volume, reduce spreads, promote price discovery, and ultimately reduce transactions costs for long-term investors. Such trades might not be doing God's work, but they are socially useful."[51]

Professor Malkiel argued that the transaction cost would be simply "added to the cost of doing business" by the exempt high-frequency intermediaries such as investment banks acting as 'firms', i.e., in their privileged capacity of market makers (an equivalent of Bureaux de change quoting two-sided prices in every market: stocks, bonds, futures, options, and not only currencies), while non-exempt market makers and other liquidity-providing traders would go out of business, reducing market trading volume and giving monopoly powers to the remaining institutions:

"Transactions taxes would make most current high-frequency trades unprofitable since they depend on the thinnest of profit margins. Trading volume would collapse, and there would be a dramatic shortfall in the tax dollars actually collected by the government. Market liquidity would decline, bid-offer spreads would widen, and "all investors would pay significantly higher costs on their trades".[51]

This view of the members of academia is also corroborated by practitioners: a representative of the U.S. mutual fund industry, the managing director and chief investment officer of Vanguard Group Inc., George Sauter, claims that competition among high frequency traders brings considerable savings for their "clients", i.e., for all U.S. mutual funds, buying stocks at improved prices offered by numerous smaller traders (who supplement the official, more expensive prices offered by investment bank market makers, just like in the Bureau de change case):

"Vanguard has estimated that [...] over the past 10 years, thanks to the many structural changes in equity markets, including [...] an explosion of high-frequency trading [...] total transactions costs on an average trade have fallen by more than 50%, resulting in approximately $1 billion of annual savings to its investors. When magnified across the whole investment industry, investors have probably saved tens of billions of dollars in transactions"[51]

Such concerns make the bill proposal deeply unpopular with the American public. In a public vote on the website WashingtonWatch.com, only 9% of voters supported the bill, with a majority 91% of voters opposed to the bill.[52]

Would there be net job losses if a FTT tax was introduced?

Schwabish (2005) examined the potential effects of introducing a stock transaction (or "transfer") tax in a single city (New York) on employment not only in the securities industry, but also in the supporting industries. A financial transactions tax would lead to job losses also in non-financial sectors of the economy through the so called multiplier effect forwarding in a magnified form any taxes imposed on Wall Street employees through their reduced demand to their suppliers and supporting industries. The author estimated the ratios of financial- to non-financial job losses of between 10:1 to 10:4, that is "a 10 percent decrease in securities industry employment would depress employment in the retail, services, and restaurant sectors by more than 1 percent; in the business services sector by about 4 percent; and in total private jobs by about 1 percent." [53]

It is also possible to estimate the impact of a reduction in stock market volume caused by taxing stock transactions on the rise in the overall unemployment rate. For every 10 percent decline in stock market volume, elasticities estimated by Schwabish (2005) implied that a stock transaction ("transfer") tax could cost New York City between 30,000 and 42,000 private-sector jobs, and if the stock market volume reductions reached levels observed by Umlauf (1993) in Sweden after a stock FTT was introduced there ("By 1990, more than 50% of all Swedish trading had moved to London")[54] then according to Schwabish (2005), following an introduction of a FFT tax, there would be 150,000-210,000 private-sector jobs losses in the New York alone.

The cost of currency hedges - and thus "certainty what importers and exporters' money is worth" - has nothing to do with volatility whatsoever, as this cost is exclusively determined by the interest rate differental between two currencies. Nevertheless, as Tobin said, "If... [currency] is suddenly withdrawn, countries have to drastically increase interest rates for their currency to still be attractive.[3][4]

Is there an optimum tax rate?

Financial transaction tax rates of the magnitude of 0.1%-1% have been proposed by normative economists, without addressing the practicability of implementing a tax at these levels. In positive economics studies however, where due reference was paid to the prevailing market conditions, the resulting tax rates have been significantly lower.

For instance, Edwards (1993) concluded that if the transaction tax revenue from taxing the futures markets were to be maximized (see Laffer curve), with the tax rate not leading to a prohibitively large increase in the marginal cost of market participants, the rate would have to be set so low that "a tax on futures markets will not achieve any important social objective and will not generate much revenue."[55]

Political opinion

Opinions are divided between those who applaud that the Tobin tax could protect countries from spillovers of financial crises, and those who claim that the tax would also constrain the effectiveness of the global economic system, increase price volatility, widen bid-ask spreads for end users such as investors, savers and hedgers, and destroy liquidity.

Tobin tax proponents response to empirical evidence on volatility

Lack of direct supporting evidence for stabilizing (volatility-reducing) properties of Tobin-style transaction taxes in econometric research is acknowledged by some of the Tobin tax supporters:

"Ten studies report a positive relationship between transaction taxes and short-term price volatility, five studies did not find any significant relationship." (Schulmeister et al, 2008, p. 18). [20]

These Tobin tax proponents have to therefore rely on indirect evidence in their favor, reinterpreting studies which do not deal directly with volatility, but instead with trading volume (with volume being generally reduced by transaction taxes, though it constitutes their tax base, see: negative feedback loop). This allows these Tobin tax proponents to state that "some studies show (implicitly) that higher transaction costs might dampen price volatility. This is so because these studies report that a reduction of trading activities is associated with lower price volatility." So if a study finds that reducing trading volume or trading frequency reduces volatility, these Tobin tax supporters combine it with the observation that Tobin-style taxes are volume-reducing, and thus should also indirectly reduce volatility ("this finding implies a negative relationship between [..] transaction tax [..] and volatility, because higher transaction costs will "ceteris paribus" always dampen trading activities)." (Schulmeister et al, 2008, p. 18).[20]

There is yet another reason why some proponents of the Tobin tax maintain that it can reduce volatility, despite prevailing empirical evidence to the contrary. This is possible, because some Tobin tax supporters created a concept of a separate, custom-defined volatility. Rather than adopting one of the standard statistical definitions (e.g., conditional variance of returns, see Engle, 1982 [56]) leading economists favoring the Tobin tax prefer to define volatility as a "long-term overshooting of speculative prices (see Tobin, 1978 [57] and Eichengreen, Tobin and Wyplosz, 1995 [58]). Evidence about this special type of volatility is missing and this is why some of the proponents, instead of conducting their own tests, prefer to blame financial econometric researchers for not addressing their special needs:

"Unfortunately, all empirical studies on the relationship between transaction costs, trading volume and price volatility in general, and on the possible effects of an FTT on volatility in particular, deal with short-term statistical volatility only. Therefore, the results of these studies cannot help to answer the question whether or not an FTT will mitigate misalignments of asset prices over the medium and long run." (Schulmeister et al, 2008, p. 11).[20]

Thus the beneficial impact of transaction taxes on the "Tobin volatility" can co-exist as a valid economic theory even without direct supporting evidence from the statistical volatility research, simply because of the special volatility definition, which allows all economists defending the Tobin tax to escape Popperian falsifiability.

Another shortcoming of all of the empirical volatility studies pointed out by some of the Tobin tax proponents is the lack of distinction between "basic" and "excessive" volatility, which "might have contributed to the contradictory and, hence, inconclusive results of these studies" (Schulmeister et al, 2008, p. 11-12). [20] Unfortunately, no tests have been conducted so far, which would be able to operationalize "excessive" volatility assumed to exist by the Tobin tax theory (see Schulmeister et al, 2008, p. 11),[20] therefore the acceptance of the Tobin-style transactions tax as a fiscal or monetary policy instrument requires clear understanding that basic theoretical phenomena underlying this tax, such as "excessive" volatility, still remain untested.

Should speculators be encouraged, penalized or dissuaded?

The Tobin tax rests on the premise that speculators ought to be, as Tobin puts it, "dissuaded."[4][5][59][60] This premise itself is a matter of debate: See main debate at main article on "speculation.".

Matthew Sinclair, Research Director of TaxPayers' Alliance, argues that "The whole idea of a Tobin tax is based on the flawed view that trading – or speculation – is a bad thing. The truth is that it isn’t: it helps the process of price discovery, makes markets work better, enhances liquidity, ensures that resources are priced correctly and generally helps oil the cogs of the global economy."[61]

On the other side of the debate were the leaders of Germany who, in May 2008, planned to propose a worldwide ban on oil trading by speculators, blaming the 2008 oil price rises on manipulation by hedge funds. At that time India, with similar concerns, had already suspended futures trading of five commodities.[62]

On December 3, 2009, US Congressman Peter DeFazio stated, "The American taxpayers bailed out Wall Street during a crisis brought on by reckless speculation in the financial markets,.....This [ proposed financial transaction tax ] legislation will force Wall Street to do their part and put people displaced by that crisis back to work."[63]

On January 21, 2010, President Barack Obama endorsed the Volcker Rule which deals with proprietary trading of investment banks[64] and restricts banks from making certain speculative kinds of investments if they are not on behalf of their customers.[64] Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, President Obama's advisor, has argued that such speculative activity played a key role in the financial crisis of 2007–2010.

Volcker endorsed only the UK's tax on bank bonuses, calling it "interesting", but was wary about imposing levies on financial market transactions, because he is "instinctively opposed" to any tax on financial transactions.[65]

Questions of volatility

In February 2010, Tim Harford, writing in the Undercover Economist column of the Financial Times, commented directly on the claims of Keynes and Tobin that 'taxes on financial transactions would reduce financial volatility'.[66] Harford wrote:-

"This is possible but far from obvious, when you realise that the tax might encourage bigger, more irregular financial transactions. An analogy: if I have to pay a charge whenever I use a cash machine, I make fewer, larger withdrawals and the amount of money in my wallet fluctuates more widely. Bear in mind, too, that the most bubble-prone asset market is for housing, which is bought in very lumpy, long-term chunks."

"There isn’t much evidence as to whether transaction charges reduce volatility. What there is is mixed – but perhaps leaning against the Robin Hood tax. On the French stock market, coarser 'tick sizes' raise spreads and act like a tax: they increase volatility. Transaction taxes on Swedish stocks in the 1980s reduced prices and turnover but left volatility unchanged."

Original idea and alter-globalization movement

Tobin's more specific concept of a "currency transaction tax" from 1972 lay dormant for more than 20 years but was revived by the advent of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. In December, 1997 Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, renewed the debate around the Tobin tax with an editorial titled "Disarming the markets". Ramonet proposed to create an association for the introduction of this tax, which was named ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens). The tax then became an issue of the global justice movement or alter-globalization movement and a matter of discussion not only in academic institutions but even in streets and in parliaments in the UK, France, and around the world.

In an interview given to Der Spiegel in 2001, James Tobin distanced himself from the global justice movement [1][2] and continued to state the validity of his proposal,

"I have absolutely nothing in common with those anti-globalisation rebels. Of course I am pleased; but the loudest applause is coming from the wrong side. Look, I am an economist and, like most economists, I support free trade. Furthermore, I am in favour of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation. They've hijacked my name.... The tax on foreign exchange transactions was devised to cushion exchange rate fluctuations...." [4][5][6][67] (See last part of quote in the above lead section).

Tobin observed that, while his original proposal had only the goal of "putting a brake on the foreign exchange trafficking", the antiglobalization movement had stressed "the income from the taxes with which they want to finance their projects to improve the world". He declared himself not contrary to this use of the tax's income, but stressed that it was not the important aspect of the tax.

ATTAC and other organizations have recognized that while they still consider Tobin's original aim as paramount, they think the tax could produce funds for development needs in the South (such as the Millennium Development Goals),[37] and allow governments, and therefore citizens, to reclaim part of the democratic space conceded to the financial markets.

In March, 2002, London School of Economics Professor Willem Buiter, who studied under James Tobin, wrote a glowing obituary for the man, [68] but also remarked that, "This [Tobin Tax]...was in recent years adopted by some of the most determined enemies of trade liberalisation, globalisation and the open society." Buiter added, "The proposal to use the Tobin tax as a means of raising revenues for development assistance was rejected by Tobin, and he forcefully repudiated the anti-globalisation mantra of the Seattle crowd." In September, 2009, Buiter also wrote in the Financial Times, "Tobin was a genius... but the Tobin tax was probably his one daft idea".[69]

It should be noted that in those same "years" that Buiter spoke of, the Tobin tax was also "adopted" or supported in varying degrees by the people who were not, as he put it, "enemies of trade liberalisation." Among them were several supporters from 1990 to 1999, including Larry Summers and several from 2000 to 2004, including lukewarm support from George Soros.

Tobin tax proposals and implementations around the world

It was originally assumed that the Tobin tax would require multilateral implementation, since one country acting alone would find it very difficult to implement this tax. Many people have therefore argued that it would be best implemented by an international institution. It has been proposed that having the United Nations manage a Tobin tax would solve this problem and would give the UN a large source of funding independent from donations by participating states. However, there have also been initiatives of national dimension about the tax. (This is in addition to the many countries that have foreign exchange controls.)

Whilst finding some support in countries with strong left-wing political movements such as France and Latin America, the Tobin tax proposal came under much criticism from economists and governments, especially those with liberal markets and a large international banking sector, who said it would be impossible to implement and would destabilise foreign exchange markets.

Most of the actual implementation of Tobin taxes, whether in the form of a specific currency transaction tax, or a more general financial transaction tax, has occurred at a national level. In July, 2006, analyst Marion G. Wrobel examined the international experiences of various countries with financial transaction taxes.[70]

Sweden's experience with financial transaction taxes

Wrobel's paper highlighted the Swedish experience with financial transaction taxes.[70] In January 1984, Sweden introduced a 0.5% tax on the purchase or sale of an equity security. Thus a round trip (purchase and sale) transaction resulted in a 1% tax. In July 1986 the rate was doubled. In January 1989, a considerably lower tax of 0.002% on fixed-income securities was introduced for a security with a maturity of 90 days or less. On a bond with a maturity of five years or more, the tax was 0.003%.

The revenues from taxes were disappointing; for example, revenues from the tax on fixed-income securities were initially expected to amount to 1,500 million Swedish kroner per year. They did not amount to more than 80 million Swedish kroner in any year and the average was closer to 50 million.[71] In addition, as taxable trading volumes fell, so did revenues from capital gains taxes, entirely offsetting revenues from the equity transactions tax that had grown to 4,000 million Swedish kroner by 1988.[72]

On the day that the tax was announced, share prices fell by 2.2%. But there was leakage of information prior to the announcement, which might explain the 5.35% price decline in the 30 days prior to the announcement. When the tax was doubled, prices again fell by another 1%. These declines were in line with the capitalized value of future tax payments resulting from expected trades. It was further felt that the taxes on fixed-income securities only served to increase the cost of government borrowing, providing another argument against the tax.

Even though the tax on fixed-income securities was much lower than that on equities, the impact on market trading was much more dramatic. During the first week of the tax, the volume of bond trading fell by 85%, even though the tax rate on five-year bonds was only 0.003%. The volume of futures trading fell by 98% and the options trading market disappeared. On 15 April 1990, the tax on fixed-income securities was abolished. In January 1991 the rates on the remaining taxes were cut in half and by the end of the year they were abolished completely. Once the taxes were eliminated, trading volumes returned and grew substantially in the 1990s.

Tobin tax proponents reaction to the Swedish experience

The Swedish experience of a transaction tax was with purchase or sale of equity securities, fixed income securities and derivatives. In global international currency trading, however, the situation could, some argue, look quite different. In 2000, Round argued as follows: "[The Tobin tax] could boost world trade by helping to stabilize exchange rates. Wildly fluctuating rates play havoc with businesses dependent on foreign exchange as prices and profits move up and down, depending on the relative value of the currencies being used. When importers and exporters can’t be certain from one day to the next what their money is worth, economic planning – including job creation – goes out the window. Reduced exchange-rate volatility means that businesses would need to spend less money ‘hedging’ (buying currencies in anticipation of future price changes), thus freeing up capital for investment in new production."[42]

Wrobel's studies do not address the global economy as a whole, as James Tobin did when he spoke of "the nineties' crises in Mexico, South East Asia and Russia,"[73][74] which included the 1994 economic crisis in Mexico, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and the 1998 Russian financial crisis.

United Kingdom experience with stock transaction tax (Stamp Duty)

See also: Stamp Duty Reserve Tax

An existing example of a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) is the Stamp Duty Reserve Tax (SDRT). This tax on share purchases was introduced in the UK in 1963,[75] preceding by almost a decade the Tobin tax on currency transactions. The initial rate of the UK Stamp Duty was 2%, subsequently fluctuating between 1% and 2%, until a process of its gradual reduction started in 1984, when the rate was halved, first from 2% to 1%, and then once again in 1986 from 1% to the current level of 0.5%.[75]

The changes in Stamp Duty rates in 1974, 1984, and 1986 provided researchers with "natural experiments”, allowing them to measure the impact of transaction taxes on market volume, volatility, returns, and valuations of UK companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. Jackson and O'Donnel (1985), using UK quarterly data, found that the 1% cut in the Stamp Duty in April 1984 from 2% to 1% lead to a "dramatic 70% increase in equity turnover" [76]. Analyzing all three Stamp Duty rate changes, Saporta and Kan (1997) found that the announcements of tax rate increases (decreases) were followed by negative (positive) returns, but even though these results were statistically significant, they were likely to be influenced by other factors, because the announcements were made on budget days.[77] Bond et al. (2005) confirmed the findings of previous studies, noting also that the impact of the announced tax rate cuts was more beneficial (increasing market value more significantly) in case of larger firms, which had higher turnover, and were therefore more affected by the transaction tax than stocks of smaller companies, less frequently traded.[78]

Because the UK tax code provides exemptions from the Stamp Duty Reserve Tax for all financial intermediaries, including market makers, investment banks and other members of the LSE[79], and due to the strong growth of the contracts for difference (CFD) industry, which provides UK investors with untaxed substitutes for LSE stocks, according to the Oxera (2007) report,[75] more than 70% percent of the total UK stock market volume, including the entire institutional volume remained (in 2005) exempt from the Stamp Duty, in contrast to the common perception of this tax as a "tax on bank transactions" or a "tax on speculation". On the other hand, as much as 40% of the Stamp Duty revenues come from taxing foreign residents,[80] because the tax is "chargeable whether the transaction takes place in the UK or overseas, and whether either party is resident in the UK or not."[78] in breach of the residence rule, used as the "connecting factor" between taxpayers and governments under universally accepted international tax laws (the OECD Model Tax Convention on Income and on Capital).[81][82]

Sterling Stamp Duty - a currency transactions tax proposed for pound sterling

In 2005 the Tobin tax was developed into a modern proposal by the United Kingdom NGO Stamp Out Poverty. It simplified the two-tier tax in favour of a mechanism designed solely as a means for raising development revenue. The currency market by this time had grown to $2,000 billion a day. To investigate the feasibility of such a tax they hired the City of London firm Intelligence Capital, who found that a tax on Pound sterling wherever it was traded in the world, as opposed to a tax on all currencies traded in the UK, was indeed feasible and could be unilaterally implemented by the UK government.[37]

The Sterling Stamp Duty, as it became known, was to be set at a rate 200 times lower than Tobin had envisaged in 2001, which “pro Tobin tax” supporters claim wouldn't have affected currency markets and could still raise large sums of money. The global currency market grew to $3,200 billion a day in 2007, or £400,000 billion per annum with the trade in sterling, the fourth most traded currency in the world, worth £34,000 billion a year.[83] A sterling stamp duty set at 0.005% as some claim would have raised in the region of £2 billion a year in 2007.[84] The All Party Parliamentary Group for Debt, Aid and Trade published a report in November 2007 into financing for development in which it recommended that the UK government undertake rigorous research into the implementation of a 0.005% stamp duty on all sterling foreign exchange transactions, to provide additional revenue to help bridge the funding gap required to pay for the Millennium Development Goals.[85]

Multinational proposals

European idea for a 'first Euro tax'

In late 2001, a Tobin tax amendment was adopted by the French National Assembly. However, it was overturned by March 2002 by the French Senate.[86][87][88]

On June 15, 2004, the Commission of Finance and Budget in the Belgian Federal Parliament approved a bill implementing a Spahn tax.[89] According to the legislation, Belgium will introduce the Tobin tax once all countries of the eurozone introduce a similar law.[90] In July 2005 former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel called for a European Union Tobin tax to base the communities' financial structure on more stable and independent grounds. However, the proposal was rejected by the European Commission.

On November 23, 2009, Europe's first President Herman Van Rompuy, after attending a meeting of the Bilderberg Group, argued for a European version of the Tobin tax.[91][92] This tax would go beyond just financial transactions: "...all shopping and petrol would be taxed."[91]. Countering him was his sister, Christine Van Rompuy, who said, "any new taxes would directly affect the poor".[93]

Support in some G20 nations

The first nation in the G20 group to formally accept the Tobin tax was Canada.[94] On March 23, 1999, the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution directing the government to "enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community."[40] However, ten years later, in November 2009, at the G20 finance ministers summit in Scotland, the representatives of the minority government of Canada spoke publicly on the world stage in opposition to that Canadian House of Commons resolution. [43]

In September, 2009, French president Nicolas Sarkozy brought up the issue of a Tobin tax once again, suggesting it be adopted by the G20.[3]

On November 7, 2009, prime minister Gordon Brown said that G-20 should consider a tax on speculation, although did not specify that it should be on currency trading alone. The BBC reported that there was a negative response to the plan among the G20.[43]

By December 11, 2009, European Union leaders expressed broad support for a Tobin tax in a communiqué sent to the International Monetary Fund. [11] On that day, the Financial Times reported the following: "Since the Nov 7 [2009] summit of the G20 Finance Ministers , the head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Strauss-Kahn seems to have softened his doubts, telling the CBI employers' conference: "We have been asked by the G20 to look into financial sector taxes.... This is an interesting issue.... We will look at it from various angles and consider all proposals."" [95]

For supporters of a Tobin tax, there is a wide range of opinion on who should administer a global Tobin tax and what the revenue should be used for. There are some who think that it should take the form of an insurance: In early November 2009, at the G20 finance ministers summit in Scotland, the British Prime Minister "Mr. Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, suggested that revenues from the Tobin tax could be devoted to the world’s fight against climate change, especially in developing countries. They suggested that funding could come from “a global financial transactions tax...." However British officials later argued the main point of a financial transactions tax would be provide insurance for the global taxpayer against a future banking crisis."[11] [96]

Latin America - Bank of the South

In early November 2007, a regional Tobin tax was adopted by the Bank of the South, after an initiative of Presidents Hugo Chavez from Venezuela and Néstor Kirchner from Argentina.[97]

UN Global Tax

According to Stephen Spratt, "the revenues raised could be used for... international development objectives... such as meeting the Millennium Development Goals."([37], p. 19) These are eight international development goals that 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed (in 2000) to achieve by the year 2015. They include reducing extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development.[98]

In 2000, a representative of a “pro Tobin tax” NGO proposed the following: "In the face of increasing income disparity and social inequity, the Tobin Tax represents a rare opportunity to capture the enormous wealth of an untaxed sector and redirect it towards the public good. Conservative estimates show the tax could yield from $150-300 billion annually. The UN estimates that the cost of wiping out the worst forms of poverty and environmental destruction globally would be around $225 billion per year."[40]

At the UN September 2001 World Conference against Racism, when the issue of compensation for colonialism and slavery arose in the agenda, Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba, advocated the Tobin Tax to address that issue. (According to Cliff Kincaid, Castro advocated it "specifically in order to generate U.S. financial reparations to the rest of the world," however a closer reading of Castro's speech shows that he never did mention "the rest of the world" as being recipients of revenue.) Castro cited Holocaust reparations as a previously established precedent for the concept of reparations. [99] [100]

Castro also suggested that the United Nations be the administrator of this tax, stating the following:

"May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way on the current speculative operations accounting for trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the United Nations, which cannot go on depending on meager, inadequate, and belated donations and charities, will have one trillion US dollars annually to save and develop the world. Given the seriousness and urgency of the existing problems, which have become a real hazard for the very survival of our species on the planet, that is what would actually be needed before it is too late."[99]

On March 6, 2006, US Congressman Ron Paul stated the following: "The United Nations remains determined to rob from wealthy countries and, after taking a big cut for itself, send what’s left to the poor countries. Of course, most of this money will go to the very dictators whose reckless policies have impoverished their citizens. The UN global tax plan... resurrects the long-held dream of the 'Tobin Tax'. A dangerous precedent would be set, however: the idea that the UN possesses legitimate taxing authority to fund its operations."[101]

Supporters and opposers (in chronological order)

Government officials

From 1990 to 1999

  • 1994 - In Canada, economist Rodney Schmidt's research, beginning in the spring of 1994, "came about because Finance Minister Paul Martin himself had expressed an interest in the [Tobin] tax and the possibility of raising it at [the June, 1995] Group of 7 meeting in Halifax."[33]
  • In 1996, in New Zealand, Don Brash, when he was the Governor of the Reserve Bank, stated that a Tobin tax in New Zealand would not have the desired effect of reducing the volume of international financial transactions or in reducing market volatility.[102]
  • 1999 - In Canada, the Tobin tax was revived largely through the efforts of Canadian activists in the 1990s, and on March 23, 1999 the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution directing the government to "enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community."[40]

From 2000 to 2004

  • On June 15, 2004, the Commission of Finance and Budget in the Belgian Federal Parliament approved a bill implementing a Spahn tax.

From 2005 to 2008

In 2009

  • September 19, 2009 - Supporter - Government of France[105]
  • October 20, 2009 - Supporter - Government of Brazil[106]
  • In early November 2009, at the G20 finance ministers summit in Scotland, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised the idea of a tax on financial transactions, but did not go into specific details.[11] [43]
  • In early November, 2009, the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner advised the US does not support the Tobin Tax. [11] [43]
  • In November 2009, at the G20] finance ministers summit, the representatives of the minority government of Canada spoke publicly on the world stage in opposition to the Canadian House of Commons 1999 resolution to "enact a tax on financial transactions in concert with the international community."[40][43] Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, restated Canada's opposition to a Tobin tax. Flaherty said, "It is not something we would be interested in in Canada. We are not in the business of raising taxes, we are in the business of lowering taxes in Canada. It is not an idea we would look at." [107]
  • On December 11, 2009, the Financial Times reported the following: "Since the Nov 7 [2009] summit of the G20 Finance Ministers , the head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Strauss-Kahn seems to have softened his doubts, telling the CBI employers' conference: "We have been asked by the G20 to look into financial sector taxes.... This is an interesting issue.... We will look at it from various angles and consider all proposals."" [111]
  • December 13, 2009 - Paul Volcker, chairman of the US Economic Recovery Advisory Board under President Barack Obama, said he "instinctively opposed" any tax on financial transactions. "But it may be worthwhile to look into the current proposals as long as the result is not predetermined. That would at least end all this renewed talk about the idea, but overall I am skeptical about these ideas." [112]

In 2010

  • On January 26, 2010, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King dismissed the idea of a “Tobin tax”. “Of all the components of radical reform, I think a Tobin tax is bottom of the list,” said Mr King. “It’s not thought to be the answer to the 'Too Big to Fail' problem - there’s much more support for the idea of a US-type levy.” [113]

Non-government supporters and opponents

1972 to 1990

1990 to 1999

  • On August 1, 1995, an IMF Working Paper No. 95/77 Financial Transactions Taxes by Shome,Parthasrathi and Stotsky, Janet Gale found that "the economic effects of financial transactions taxes on capital markets are seen to be pervasive. They may impose significant efficiency costs by impairing the smooth functioning of financial markets, increasing the cost of capital, and distorting the structure of capital financing. Their effects on the volatility of capital flows, either in domestic or international financial markets, are uncertain, as are their distributional and revenue effects."[116]
  • 1998 - Supporters - ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens)

2000 to 2004

  • In 2001 the charity War on Want released The Robin Hood Tax,[117] a report explaining the case for a currency transactions tax. War on Want also sets up the Tobin Tax Network to develop the proposal and press for its introduction.
  • 2001 - September 19 - Speculator George Soros, put forward a different proposal, Special Drawing Rights or SDRs that the rich countries would pledge for the purpose of providing international assistance, without necessarily dismissing the Tobin tax idea. [118] He stated, "It is not at all clear to me that a Tobin tax would reduce volatility in the currency markets. It is true that it may discourage currency speculation but it would also reduce the liquidity of the marketplace."
  • In 2001, the International Monetary Fund conducted considerable research that opposes a transaction tax. In 2001 findings by Habermeier, Karl Friedrich and Kirilenko, Andrei state that "... transaction taxes or such equivalents as capital controls can have negative effects on price discovery, volatility, and liquidity and lead to a reduction in the informational efficiency of markets."[119]

2005 to 2008

  • In 2006, Markku Lanne and Timo Vesala of University of Helsinki write in the Bank of Finland Research Discussion Paper No. 11/2006 The Effect of a Transaction Tax on Exchange Rate Volatility(2006) that "a transaction tax is likely to amplify, not dampen, volatility in foreign exchange markets."[120]
  • In September 2006, George Monbiot argues in favour of a Tobin Tax, in his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning.[121]

2009

  • In early November 2009, the "Lex" column of Financial Times opposes the Tobin tax, in "Tobin or not Tobin" it writes "The Tobin tax should remain a curiosity of economic history."[125]
  • In November 2009, Matthew Sinclair, Research Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, wrote an article in the London newspaper City AM A Tobin Tax would destroy London without making the world safer [126]
  • In late November 2009 Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, argued that a Tobin Tax would have ameliorated the Financial crisis of 2007–2010. He wrote, "... bad investments aren’t the whole story of the crisis. What turned those bad investments into catastrophe was the financial system’s excessive reliance on short-term money... a financial transactions tax, by discouraging reliance on ultra-short-run financing, would have made such a run much less likely. So contrary to what the skeptics say, such a tax would have helped prevent the current crisis — and could help us avoid a future replay." Krugman wrote that it is "an idea whose time has come."[127]
  • In late November, 2009, Economist Charles Goodhart, Professor Emeritus of Banking and Finance at London School of Economics and developer of Goodhart's law, was scathing in his criticism of "radical and consumer groups [that] go on backing the Tobin tax idea". He argued, "Many of those who support such a tax neither know, nor care, what effects it might have on market efficiency. Besides a, generally misguided view that its imposition would fall primarily on the financial sector, rather than be passed on to its customers, the hope is that such a tax would produce lots of lovely revenue, to be spent on good deeds, such as foreign aid." [128]
  • December 7, 2009, economist Stephany Griffith-Jones advocated a very low but "internationally co-ordinated tax on financial transactions, often described as a Tobin tax."[129]

2010

  • On February 15, 2010 - The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council, wrote to the IMF opposing a global transaction tax. The Council wrote: "(The) imposition of a global tax is an inappropriate response and a further burden to industries, especially small and medium enterprises, and consumers in the wake of the global financial crisis. We also believe that the proposals under consideration would be harmful for a range of additional reasons, including the practical challenges of implementing any such tax."[131]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h James Tobin (July/October 1978). "A Proposal for International Monetary Reform". Eastern Economic Journal. Eastern Economic Association. pp. 153-159. http://ideas.repec.org/a/eej/eeconj/v4y1978i3-4p153-159.html. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  2. ^ Excerpt from original German article:"....wie die Krisen in Mexiko, Südostasien und Russland während der neunziger Jahre gezeigt haben. Meine Steuer würde Notenbanken kleiner Länder Handlungsspielraum zurückgeben und dem Diktat der Finanzmärkte etwas entgegensetzen." - Christian Von Reiermann, and Michaela Schießl (03.09.2001). "Die missbrauchen meinen Namen (translated as "They Are Misusing My Name") (Interview with James Tobin)". Spiegel Online. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-20017795.html. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
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  4. ^ a b c d e f Christian Von Reiermann, and Michaela Schießl (03.09.2001). "Die missbrauchen meinen Namen (translated as "They Are Misusing My Name") (Interview with James Tobin)". Spiegel Online. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-20017795.html. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
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Further reading

  • Patomäki, Heikki (August 2001), Democratising Globalisation: The Leverage of the Tobin Tax, Zed Books, ISBN 978-1856498715 
  • Haq, Mahbub ul; Kaul, Inge; Grunberg, Isabelle (August 1996), The Tobin Tax: Coping with Financial Volatility, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195111804 

External links


Simple English

A Tobin tax is a tax on all trade of currency across borders.

The first idea that it could be useful came from the economist James Tobin. The tax is meant to put a penalty on short-term speculation in currencies. The proposed tax rate would be low, between 0.1% to 0.25%.

On August 15, 1971, Richard Nixon told that it would no longer be possible to change the US dollar to gold, so ended the Bretton Woods system. Tobin suggested a new system for international currency stability, and proposed that such a system include a charge on foreign-exchange transactions. Professor Tobin later received a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1981.

The idea was nearly forgotten for more than 20 years. In 1997 Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, started the debate around the Tobin tax again with an editorial titled "Disarming the markets". Ramonet proposed to create an association for the introduction of this tax, which was named ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens). The tax has then become an issue of the antiglobalization movement and a matter of discussion not only behind academic institutions but even in the streets and in parliaments around the world, such as the UK and France.

Tobin tax projects in the world

Since one country acting alone would find it very difficult to introduce this tax, many argue it would be best done by an international institution. It has been proposed that having the United Nations manage a Tobin tax would solve this problem and would give the U.N. a large source of funding independent from donations by participating states. However, there have been initiatives of national dimension about the tax.

The Tobin tax idea was the subject of much discussion in Europe in the summer of 2001. On June 15, 2004, the Commission of Finance and Budget in the Belgian Federal Parliament approved a bill implementing the Spahn tax (a version of the Tobin tax proposed by Paul-Bernd Spahn). According to the legislation, Belgium will introduce the Tobin tax once all countries of the eurozone introduce a similar law.

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