Taxing Wall Street

To move money to Main Street, a sales tax (a small fraction of one percent) should be imposed on stocks, bonds, and derivatives trades. It would be practically invisible for nearly all of us, but would add up to significant amounts on the large Wall Street players. It also would discourage high frequency computer trades, which make up the majority of all stock market activity.

From Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice

A sizable portion of Wall Street’s profits comes from the rapid buying and selling of all kinds of financial instruments – especially stocks, bonds, options, and derivatives. In the U.S., we are taxed when we buy most goods, but Wall Street is not taxed when it conducts its buying and selling, even though this business runs into the trillions of dollars.

Economists like the late James Tobin believe that taxing these transactions not only would produce needed government revenue, but also put the brakes on the rapid short-term buying and selling of financial assets, a practice that is both dangerous and damaging.

Unions, including the National Nurses United and the Chicago Teachers Union, are calling for such taxes both to tame Wall Street and to fund social programs and education. A small tax could generate as much as $ 350 billion a year in revenues. The nurses call it a Robin Hood Tax, and they have pushed the issue across the country, picking up many allies. On its website the union writes:

Among the array of groups which embrace and endorse this critical program – revenue over austerity, a Wall Street tax to pay back Main Street – are ACT UP Chapters from across the U.S., Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY), Health GAP and National Nurses United; AIDS foundations joined in; the American Medical Student Association listed itself, as did Community Voices Heard; Consumer Watchdog and the Gray Panthers joined up, as well as Greenpeace, Housing Works, the National Organization of Women and the Maine People’s Alliance. Religious organizations bring strong support to Robin Hood, including Interfaith Worker Justice, the Maryknoll Office of Global Concern, the Sisters of Holy Cross – Congregation Justice Committee and National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Labor is standing firm behind the tax, with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the United Automobile Workers, Communication Workers of America and United Steelworkers. United Students Against Sweatshops is with Robin Hood, too. And more than 100 others – all have come together for Robin Hood and its concrete commitment to social and economic justice.

A Robin Hood Tax would both cut Wall Street revenues and put serious downward pressure on enormous financier compensation packages.

Great Britain already has such a tax and the European Union is considering one (which the U.S. opposes). If we want to build a movement to contain Wall Street and rebuild our nation, we need that tax.

Leopold, Les. Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice (p. 274). Labor Institute Press. Kindle Edition.