Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s financial sector regulator, has proposed the possible use of Tobin taxes to curb destabilising financial transactions. The late James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel prize in Economics, argued that a very small tax (between 0.1 and 1 per cent) should be imposed on foreign exchange transactions to dampen destabilising foreign currency speculation and thereby reduce exchange rate fluctuations. Lord Turner’s proposal would apply to a whole range of financial transactions, putting some friction in these very volatile and often highly leveraged markets. Such a tax would discourage some of the riskier and more exotic transactions on which many of the bonuses of bankers have been based.
Not surprisingly, his proposals have been met with derision by many in the banking sector. Many politicians too have been critical, arguing that the taxes will divert financial business away from London to other financial centres around the world. And yet, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on 24/25 September, both the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued in favour of such taxes. The result was that the IMF was asked to investigate the practicality of using Tobin taxes on financial transactions as a way of reining in more risky behaviour. A week later the IMF, while ruling out a simple Tobin tax, came out in favour of taxes on the global financial sector designed to reduce speculation.
So who is right? The following articles look at the issues.
FSA chairman Lord Turner says City too big Times Online (27/8/09)
Financial Services Authority chairman backs tax on ‘socially useless’ banks Guardian (27/8/09)
Cutting finance back down to size Financial Times (27/8/09)
Support for tax to curb bonuses BBC News (27/8/09)
FSA boss gets tough on bonuses (video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3) BBC News (27/8/09)
City tells FSA to stick to day job Reuters (27/8/09)
Charities applaud FSA’s support for new bank tax Guardian (27/8/09)
The time is ripe for a Tobin tax Guardian (27/8/09)
Ça fait malus: France gets tough on bankers’ pay The Economist (27/8/09)
Sarkozy chides bankers for bonuses, calls for tougher regulation (video) France 24 (18/8/09)
Politicians Clamp Down on Bankers’ Bonuses BusinessWeek (26/8/09)
Treasury would be crazy not to listen to Turner Guardian (27/8/09)
Three cheers for Turner and tax on easy money Guardian (27/8/09)
What is the City good for, again? Guardian (27/8/09)
Will Transaction Taxes Reduce Leverage? The Atlantic (27/8/09)
FSA backs global tax on transactions Financial Times (27/8/09)
The Tobin tax explained Financial Times (27/8/09)
Could ‘Tobin tax’ reshape financial sector DNA? Financial Times (27/8/09)
Turner defends bank tax comments BBC News (30/8/09)
Turner stands firm after Tobin tax backlash Financial Times (1/9/09)
Brown calls for bank bonus reform BBC News (1/9/09)
Brown pledges bonus clampdown Financial Times (1/9/09)
Cut the banks (and bonuses) down to size Financial Times (31/8/09)
Sarkozy to press for ‘Tobin Tax’ BBC News (19/9/09)
The wrong tool for the job The Economist (17/9/09)
Dani Rodrik: The Tobin tax lives again Business Standard (19/9/09)
IMF presses for tax on banks’ risky behaviour Guardian (3/10/09)
IMF’s Strauss-Kahn puts bank tax on the agenda Times Online (3/10/09)
Banks and traders threatened by new international tax plan drawn up by IMF Telegraph (3/10/09)
- Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets movement to longer-term equilibria.
- How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing.
- How do Lord Turner’s proposals differ from those of President Sarkozy?
- Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
- Explain what Lord Turner means by “the financial services industry can grow to be larger than is socially optimal”. How would you define ‘socially optimal’ in this context?
The pound is regarded as an international currency. However, the financial crisis has caused the value of the pound to fall, reaching a four-month low against the euro in September. This recent weakening of sterling is partly the result of worries that the Lloyds Banking Group will find it difficult to meet the ‘strict criteria to leave the government’s insurance scheme for toxic banking assets’ set for it by the Financial Services Authority.
However, one of the main reasons relates to recently published figures showing UK debt (see for data). The UK’s public-sector net borrowing has now reached £16.1bn and the government’s overall debt now stands at £804.8bn: 57.5% of GDP. This represents an increase of £172bn in the past year. Over the longer term, this is unsustainable. The government could find it increasingly difficult to service this debt. This would mean that higher interest rates would have to be offered to attract people to lend to the government (e.g. through bonds and bills), but this, in turn, would further increase the cost of servicing the debt. Worries about the potential unsustainability of UK govenrment debt have weakened the pound.
But isn’t a lower exchange rate a good thing in times of recession as it gives UK-based companies a competitive advantage over companies abroad? The following articles consider UK debt and the exchange rate.
Pound plumbs five-month euro low BBC News (21/9/09)
Market data Telegraph (22/9/09)
Pound slides back against dollar and euro Guardian (21/9/09)
Pound drops as UK stocks fall for first time in seven days Bloomberg (21/9/09)
Public sector borrowing soaring BBC News (18/9/09)
Govt spending cuts ‘could help pound’ Just the Flight (21/9/09)
Pound dips to four month euro low BBC News (18/9/09)
Weak pound hits eurozone holidaymakers Compare and save (21/9/09)
- What is the relationship between public debt and the value of the pound? How do interest rates play a part?
- What is quantitative easing and has it been effective? How does it affect the exchange rate?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a freely floating exchange rate relative to a fixed exchange rate?
- If the UK had joined the euro, do you think the country would have fared better during the recession? Consider public debt levels: would they have been restricted? What would have happened to interest rates? What would have happened to the rate of recovery
On July 8 the UK government published its long-awaited White Paper on reform of the system of banking regulation. Several commentators had called for the abolition of the ‘tripartite’ system of regulation, whereby responsibility for ensuring the stability and security of the banking system is shared between the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Bank of England and the Treasury. Some have advocated a considerable strengthening of the role of the Bank of England and even abolishing the FSA. What is generally agreed is that there needs to be ‘macro-prudential’ regulation that looks at the whole banking system and at questions of systemic risk and not just at individual banks. Several of the articles below debate this issue.
The government’s White Paper proposes keeping the tripartite system but also strengthening various aspects of regulation. Amongst other things, it proposes giving the FSA powers to ‘penalise banks if their pay policies create unnecessary risks and are not focused on the long-term strength of their institutions’. It also proposes setting up a ‘new Council for Financial Stability – made up of the FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury – to meet regularly and report on the systemic risks to financial stability’. Banks would also be required to increase their capital adequacy ratios. The first two articles below give an outline of the proposals. The detailed proposals are contained in the third link, to the Treasury site.
Chancellor moves to rein in ‘risky’ banks Independent (9/7/09)
Banks to face tougher regulation BBC News (8/7/09)
Reforming financial markets HM Treasury (8/7/09)
Treasury sees devil in the detail Financial Times (7/7/09)
How to police the banking system Independent (8/7/09)
City regulation: a quick guide Telegraph (8/7/09)
Treasury White Paper: what it means for the financial services industry Telegraph (8/7/09)
Key issues: Financial regulation BBC News (8/7/09)
Alistair Darling accuses banks of ‘kamikaze’ attitude to loans Telegraph (5/7/09)
HSBC boss on banking reform BBC News video (3/7/09)
Bankers ‘want to be proud of what they do’ BBC Today Programme, Radio 4 (7/7/09)
Divisions on display at Mansion House BBC Newsnight video (18/6/09)
Who should supervise the banks? BBC Newsnight video (18/6/09)
Governor wants more bank powers BBC News video (17/6/09)
King puts spotlight on banks too big to fail Times Online (21/6/09)
Mervyn King: Banks cannot be too big to fail Edmund Conway blog, Telegraph (17/6/09)
The City doesn’t need any more rules Telegraph (6/7/09)
Treasury admits ‘intellectual failure’ behind credit crisis Telegraph (8/7/09)
Bankers to face draconian pay veto Times Online (8/7/09)
- What do you understand by macro-prudential regulation? What would be the difficulties of applying regulation at this level?
- Why may liquidity ratios and capital adequacy ratios that are deemed appropriate by individual banks be inappropriate for the banking system as a whole?
- If banks are too big to fail, why does this create a moral hazard?
- Examine the case for splitting universal banks into retail banks and investment banks.
- Examine the arguments for and against regulating the level and nature of remuneration of senior bank executives.
In recent years Labour has taken what might be described as a light-touch on regulation of City firms and financial institutions. In the article below the economics editor of the Guardian, Larry Elliott, argues that this ‘pact with the devil’ might have come back to haunt Gordon Brown as the impact of the global credit crunch continues to dominate economic news.
Brown damned by his Faustian pact Guardian (12/5/08)
||What form has regulation of the financial sector taken under the Labour government?
||Assess the extent to which this regulatory approach could be considered a ‘Faustian bargain’.
||Discuss the extent to which tighter regulation of financial markets might have helped the UK economy avoid the impact of the global credit crunch.