Tag: volatility

Last October (2011) we considered the case for a Tobin tax: also known as a financial transactions tax (FTT) or a ‘Robin Hood tax’. Since then there have been increased calls for the world to adopt such a tax.

It was promoted by President Sarkozy and supported by many other leaders at the G20 conference in Cannes on 3 and 4 November 2011. It has also been publicly supported by Bill Gates, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Vatican, as you can see from the video clips and articles below. It is also one of the demands of protesters at St Pauls in London and at other places around the world.

However, the introduction of such a tax is vehemently opposed by many banks and by the US, UK, Canadian and Australian governments, amongst others. In the articles below, we consider the latest arguments that are being used on both sides. With such strong feelings it looks as if the arguments are not going to go away.

On 29 January 2012, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced plans to introduce a 0.1% levy on financial transactions. Naturally, by taking the lead, he hopes that other EU countries will follow suit. The final set of articles consider his move.

What is a Tobin Tax? BBC News, Andrew Walker (2/11/11)
Rowan Williams: St Paul’s protest has ‘triggered awareness’ BBC News (2/11/11)
Bill Gates explains his support for a Tobin tax BBC News (2/11/11)
Robin Hood tax: What is the Tobin tax? BBC Newsnight, Andrew Verity (17/11/11)
Q&A: What is the Tobin Tax on financial trading BBC News (2/11/11)
Head-to-head: the Robin Hood tax BBC News, Gemma Godfrey and Prof Avinash Persaud (9/12/11)
Time for us to challenge the idols of high finance Financial Times, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (1/11/11)
Gates says ‘Robin Hood’ tax has part to play Financial Times, Chris Giles (3/11/11)
Sarkozy Pledges Fight for Transaction Tax Bloomberg, Rebecca Christie and Helene Fouque (4/11/11)
Financial Transaction or Speculation Taxes: Not Quite What They Seem Forbes, Tim Worstall (4/11/11)
Is a Robin Hood Tax the Answer? Forbes, Kelly Phillips Erb (3/11/11)
Bill Nighy takes Robin Hood tax to the G20 Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott (3/11/11)
G20 tax moves disappoint charities Press Association (4/11/11)
Jamaica should support the Robin Hood Tax Jamaica Observer (6/11/11)
World Leaders Need to Agree to the Robin Hood Tax at G20 Huffington Post, Bill Nighy (3/11/11)
Obama, the G20, and the 99 Percent Huffington Post, Jeffrey Sachs (1/11/11)
Now is the moment to bring banks to heel This is Money, Jeffrey Sachs (3/11/11)
Note on financial reform from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace The Vatican Today
Tobin Tax would cost £25.5bn and cause job losses says think-tank London loves Business, Rebecca Hobson (4/11/11)
The Spurious Case Against A Financial Transactions Tax – Analysis Eurasia Review, Dean Baker (2/11/11)

Sarkozy Says France to Impose Transaction Tax From August Bloomberg Businessweek, Helene Fouquet and Mark Deen (30/1/12)
Struggling Sarkozy unveils financial transactions tax Sydney Morning Herald, AFP (30/1/12)
Sarkozy announces French financial transaction tax BBC News (30/1/12)
French president announces unilateral financial transaction tax Deutsche Welle Spencer Kimball, Andrew Bowen and Nicole Goebel (30/1/12)


  1. What are the main arguments in favour of a financial transactions tax?
  2. What are the main arguments against a financial transactions tax?
  3. To what extent is the debate a normative one and to what extent could evidence be used to support one side or the other?
  4. What would determine the extent to which the tax would be passed on to consumers?
  5. Would a financial transactions tax impede growth? Explain.
  6. Would financial intermediation be made more efficient by the imposition of such a tax?

On several occasions in the past on this site we’ve examined proposals for a Tobin tax: see, for example: 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). A Tobin tax is a tax on trading in financial products, sometimes known as a ‘financial transactions tax’ (FTT). It could also be levied on trading in foreign currencies. It is considered in Economics (7th ed) (section 26.3) and Economics for Business (5th ed) (section 32.4).

The tax would be levied at a very low rate: somewhere between 0.01% and 0.5% and would 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.

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has announced that the Commission has adopted the idea of a financial transactions tax with the backing of Germany, France and other eurozone countries. This Tobin tax could be in operation by 2014. According to the Commission, it could raise some €57bn a year. Unlike earlier proposals for a Tobin tax (sometimes called the ‘Robin Hood tax’), the money raised would probably be used to reduce EU deficits, rather than being given in aid to developing countries.

The UK government has been highly critical of the proposal, arguing that, unless adopted world-wide, it would divert trade away from the City of London.

The following articles consider how such a tax would work and its potential advantages and disadvantages.

Theory inches ever closer to practice Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/9/11)
Osborne expected to oppose EU’s proposal for Tobin tax on banks Guardian, Jill Treanor (28/9/11)
Tobin tax could ‘destroy’ business models Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (30/9/11)
Tobin tax is likely, says banking chief Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (5/10/11)
Could a transactions tax be good for capitalism? BBC News, Robert Peston (3/10/11)
EU to propose tax on financial transactions BusinessDay (South Africa), Mariam Isa (5/10/11)
European politicians plot to block UK veto on ‘Tobin tax’ The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (3/10/11)
Opinion Divided on EU Transaction Tax Tax-News, Ulrika Lomas (5/10/11)
Tobin taxes and audit reform: the blizzard from Brussels The Economist (1/10/11)


  1. What are HFTs and what impact do they have on the stability and liquidity of markets?
  2. Explain how a Tobin tax would work.
  3. What would be the potential advantages and disadvantages of the Tobin tax as proposed by the European Commission (the ‘financial transactions tax’)?
  4. Are financial markets efficient? Can a market be ‘excessively efficient’?
  5. How are ‘execute or cancel’ orders used by HFTs?
  6. Why do HFTs have an asymmetric information advantage?
  7. How does a financial transactions tax differ from the UK’s stamp duty reserve tax?
  8. 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?