10 of the 17 eurozone countries have agreed to adopt a financial transactions tax (FTT), often known as a ‘Tobin tax’ after James Tobin who first proposed such a tax back in 1972. The European Commission has backed the proposal, which involves levying a tax of 0.1% on trading in bonds and shares and 0.01% on trading in derivatives.
The 10 countries, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, and possibly also Estonia, hope to raise billions of euros from the tax, which will apply whenever at least one of the parties to a trade is based in one of the 10 (or 11) countries.
On several occasions in the past on this site we’ve examined proposals for such a tax: see, for example: Pressure mounts for a Tobin tax (update) (Nov 2011), A ‘Robin Hood’ tax (Feb 2010), Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing (Dec 2009) and A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (Aug 2009). Tobin taxes are also considered in Economics (8th ed) (section 26.3) and Economics for Business (5th ed) (section 32.4).
As we noted last year in the blog Is the time right for a Tobin tax?, the tax is designed to be too small to affect trading in shares or other financial products for purposes of long-term investment. It would, however, dampen speculative trades that take advantage of tiny potential gains from very short-term price movements. Such trades account for huge financial flows between financial institutions around the world and tend to make markets more volatile. The short-term dealers are known as high-frequency traders (HFTs) and their activities now account for the majority of trading on exchanges. Most of these trades are by computers programmed to seek out minute gains and respond in milliseconds. And whilst they add to short-term liquidity for much of the time, this liquidity can suddenly dry up if HFTs become pessimistic.
Supporters of the tax claim that it will make a major contribution to tackling the deficit problems of many eurozone countries. Critics claim that it will dampen investment and growth and divert financial business away from the participating countries. The following articles look at the arguments.
EU Commission backs 10 countries’ transaction tax plan Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (23/10/12)
EU ‘Robin Hood’ tax gets the nod fin24 (23/10/12)
European financial transaction tax moves step closer The Guardian, Larry Elliott (23/10/12)
Financial transaction tax for 10 EU states BBC News (23/10/12)
Rejecting a Robin Hood tax would be a spectacular own goal The Guardian, Max Lawson (11/10/12)
More than 50 financiers back Robin Hood Tax The Robin Hood Tax (23/10/12)
Topical Focus – Transaction Taxes Tax-News (23/10/12)
Could a transactions tax be good for capitalism? BBC News, Robert Peston (3/10/11)
A Tax to Kill High Frequency Trading Forbes, Lee Sheppard (16/10/12)
- Explain how the proposed financial transactions tax will work.
- Why would many parties to trades who are not based in one of the 10 participating countries still end up paying the tax?
- What are likely to be the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed tax?
- Is it appropriate to describe the proposed FTT as a ‘Robin Hood Tax’?
- How does a financial transactions tax differ from the UK’s stamp duty reserve tax?
- Explain why the design of the stamp duty tax has prevented the flight of capital and trading from London. Could a Tobin tax be designed in such a way?
- What are HFTs and what impact do they have on the stability and liquidity of markets?
- Would it be desirable for the FTT to ‘kill off’ HFTs?