With banks around the world revealing massive profits and huge bonuses, governments are getting increasingly uneasy that their bailouts have lined the pockets of bank executives. Not surprisingly voters are demanding that bankers should not be rewarded for their reckless behaviour. After all, it was taxpayers’ money that prevented many banks going bankrupt during the credit crunch.
Banks, of course, seek to justify the bonuses. If you don’t pay large bonuses, they maintain, then senior staff will leave and profits will suffer. It’s nothing to do with ‘morality’, they claim. It’s the market. ‘If you don’t pay the market rate, then executives will leave and take higher-paid jobs elsewhere.’
So are governments calling this bluff? In his pre-Budget report in December, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced a 50% tax on bank bonuses over £25,000. This was followed by an announcement by Nicholas Sarkozy that the French government would impose a similar 50% tax on bonuses over €27,500.
Then in mid January, President Obama proposed a tax on financial institutions with balance sheets above $50 billion. This would be levied at a rate of 0.15 percent of certain assets. But this was not a tax on bank bonuses, as favoured by the British and French governments, nor a tax on financial transactions – a type of Tobin tax – as favoured by Angela Merkel (see Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing). Nevertheless, it was another way of recouping for the taxpayer some of the money used to rescue banks and prevent a banking collapse.
So is this payback time for bankers, or will it simply be bank shareholders that suffer? And why can banks pay such large bonuses in the face of so much public hostility? The following articles explore the issues.
To leave or not to leave: the supertax question Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Kate Burgess (9/1/10)
French tax to raise €360m Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Ben Hall (13/1/10)
Oversized bank bonuses: classic case of overcharging The Business Times (Singapore), Anthony Rowley (15/1/10)
Obama vows to recoup ‘every dime’ taxpayers lent banks Belfast Telegraph (15/1/10)
Obama outlines $117bn bank levy (including video) BBC News (14/1/10)
Obama lays out his proposal to tax big US banks Sydney Morning Herald, Jackie Calmes (16/1/10)
Obama’s bank tax will only work if there’s a master plan in place Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (14/1/10)
Turning the tables The Economist (14/1/10)
Obama’s bigger rod for banks BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (14/1/10)
Will Obama’s tax go global? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (15/1/10)
Darling: I won’t do an Obama and tax the banks Scotsman, Eddie Barnes (16/1/10)
Obama tax is only the beginning of the banking Blitz Telegraph, Edmund Conway (15/1/10)
Bank taxes edge closer to the real target Guardian, Dan Roberts (15/1/10)
- Compare the incentive effects on bankers of the British, French and US measures discussed in the articles.
- Why does the ‘market’ result in high bank bonuses? Where does economic power lie in the market?
- Assume that you hold shares in Bank A. Would you welcome (a) high bonuses for executives of Bank A; (b) a tax on bank bonuses; (c) a ceiling on bank bonuses; (d) a tax on certain bank assets? Explain.
- What insights can game theory provide for the likely success in clawing back bank bonuses without doing damage to the economy?
- Consider whether Obama’s tax will “go global”.
In the run-up to the United Nations climate Change conference in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December, many countries have been setting out their preliminary positions. The conference aims to set the terms for the agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
Senior scientists, economists and politicians have been warning about the dire necessity of reaching a comprehensive agreement. One such economist is Sir Nicholas Stern. He argues that the EU should impose a unilateral cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 30% from 1990 levels by 2020, irrespective of the any agreement in Copenhagen. The EU has pledged to increase its targeted cut from 20% to 30% only if substantive progress is made at the talks.
Other countries have set out their preliminary positions. China has offered to reduce its carbon intensity by 40% (i.e. the proportion of carbon emissions to GDP); the USA has offered to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels; and India has offered to reduce its carbon intensity by 24% over the same period.
However, as the Washington Post article below states, “During a weekend meeting, India, along with China, Brazil, South Africa and Sudan, decided it would not agree to legally binding emission cuts, international verification of reductions without foreign funding and technology, and imposition of trade barriers in the name of climate change.”
Meanwhile the news from Australia has come as a blow to those seeking to extend tradable permit schemes around the world. The Australian senate has rejected a bill to set up an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), designed to cut Australia’s carbon emissions by up to 25% below 2000 levels by 2020.
Copenhagen climate talks: Main issues Independent (30/11/09)
Factfile on UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen talks Independent (30/11/09)
Copenhagen summit: Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis? Observer, James Hansen (29/11/09)
A heated debate Economist (26/11/09)
Getting warmer Economist (3/12/09)
Is it worth it? Economist (3/12/09)
Good policy, and bad Economist (3/12/09)
The Carbon Economy Economist (3/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit: 50/50 chance of stopping catastrophe, Lord Stern says Telegraph (1/12/09)
UK Economist: Climate Skeptics are Confused U.S.News, Meera Selva (1/12/09)
Growing Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Ahead of Copenhagen Conference Voice of America, Michael Bowman (1/12/09)
EU ‘should cut emissions by 30%’ BBC News, Roger Harrabin (1/12/09)
Stern says Copenhagen could still save world Environmental Data Interactive Exchange (1/12/09)
Moves by U.S., China induce India to do its bit on climate Washington Post, Rama Lakshmi (2/12/09)
Why do climate deniers hold sway in Australia? Guardian, Fred Pearce (1/12/09)
Australian Senate defeats carbon trading bill Guardian, Toni O’Loughlin (2/12/09)
Failed CPRS ‘may lead to better plan’ Sydney Morning Herald (2/12/09)
Australia carbon laws fail, election possible Reuters, Rob Taylor (2/12/09)
Australian Senate rejects Kevin Rudd’s climate plan BBC News (2/12/09)
The following is the official conference site:
United Nations Climate Change Conference Dec 7–Dec 18 2009
- Why cannot tackling global warming be left totally to the market?
- To what extent can the market provide part of the solution to global warming?
- How can a cap-and-trade system (i.e. tradable permits) be used to achieve (a) emissions reductions; (b) an efficient way of achieving such reductions?
- Why could the atmosphere be described as a ‘global commons’? Does it have either or both of the features of non-excludability and non-rivalry (which are both features of a public good)?
- To what extent are climate change talks a prisoner’s dilemma game? How may the Nash equilibrium of no deal, or an unenforceable deal, be avoided?
The following video and audio podcasts look at resistance by the US oil and coal industries to measures to curb the consumption of oil and coal. Despite the clearly estabilised link between burning fossil fuels and global warming, many in the two industries reject, or at least question, the evidence. After all, it is in their commerical interests to promote the consumption of fossil fuels!
Elsewhere in the USA, interesting scientific developments are taking place to combat global warming. One measure is the production of ‘green oil’ produced from algae. Growing the algae absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.
In few areas are economic arguments so intertwined with political ones. The podcasts look at some of the issues.
Energy policy divides in the US BBC News, David Shukman (2/11/09)
America’s energy policy dilemma BBC News, David Shukman (2/11/09)
Texas takes on green energy BBC News, Roger Harrabin (1/06/09)
Ethical Man: Green revolution in Texas BBC Newsnight, Justin Rowlatt (11/3/09)
Climate plans part of wider battle over American freedom Ethical Man (Justin Rowlatt) blog (BBC) (3/11/09)
Obama urges climate change effort BBC News (3/11/09)
Al Gore on tackling global warming BBC Newsnight (4/11/09)
Al Gore on beating the ‘oil habit’ BBC Today Programme (4/11/09)
- To what extent will the free market result in a shift to greener energy sources? Why will any shifts towards greener fuels still not result in the socially or environmentally optimum use of fossil and ‘green’ fuels without government intervention?
- What policies could governments adopt to internatlise the externalities involved in burning fossil fuels?
- How suitable are cap-and-trade policies (tradable permits) for tackling global warming? What conditions are necessary for such policies to be effective?
- Why is tackling climate change politically difficult for (a) individual countries and (b) the world as a whole? How is game theory relevant to your analysis?