In these news blogs, we’ve considered a Tobin tax on a number of occasions: see A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? and Tobin’s nice little earner. On 10 December 2009, the Treasury published a discussion document, Risk, reward and responsibility: the financial sector and society. This, amongst other things, considers the case for a financial transactions tax – a form of Tobin tax. As Box 4.A on page 35 states:
“James Tobin’s original proposal for a transaction tax was to tax foreign exchange transactions. The purpose of the tax was to tackle excessive exchange rate fluctuation and speculation on currency flows, as Tobin felt that short-term movements in capital flows could severely limit the ability of governments and central banks to follow appropriate domestic policies for their economies.
However, the recent crisis has shown that there is considerable risk inherent in other financial markets. In some of these markets trading volumes have also grown enormously compared to the value of underlying assets. As set out above, instability may result from these markets due to the complex nature of counterparty networks and a lack of transparency, and the transmission of financial shocks through the system.
Recent attention has therefore focused on a broader tax on financial transactions – potentially, this would include trading in a wide range of instruments, currently traded both on and off-exchange.”
The goverment in the UK has recently taken one step in increasing taxes on the financial sector. In its 2009 pre-Budget report, delivered on 9 December (see Cutting the deficit and tackling the recession. Incompatible goals?), a new tax on bank bonuses was imposed. The rate is 50% on bonuses over £25,000. Since then a similar tax has been imposed in France and Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she found it a ‘charming idea’, although probably not practical under German law. She did support, however, the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions, similar to the one being considered in the UK. Such a tax, to be effective, would ideally have to be imposed worldwide, but at least by a large number of countries.
So is the case for a Tobin tax gathering momentum? The following video podcast considers the tax’s aims, effectiveness and practicality – as do the articles.
Radical Tobin Tax proposal could go mainstream BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (10/12/09)
Now’s the time for a Tobin tax Guardian, George Irvin (11/12/09)
EU leaders urge IMF to consider Tobin tax Financial Times, Tony Barber and George Parker (11/12/09)
We can always get to Utopia – even from here Irish Times, Paul Gillespie (12/12/09)
HM Treasury makes case for Tobin tax City A.M., Julia Kollewe (11/12/09)
The Tobin Tax – a brief history Telegraph (8/11/09)
European Union presses IMF to consider Tobin tax Telegraph (11/12/09)
- How do current proposals for a Tobin tax differ from Tobin’s original proposals (see Sloman and Wride, Economics 7th edition, pages 756–8 or Sloman and Hinde, Economics for Business 4th edition, pages 743–5)?
- Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets moving 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?
- Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
- What considerations would need to be taken into account in setting the rate for a Tobin tax on financial transactions?