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Is the Financial Transaction Tax Just a ‘Crazy Democratic’ Idea? Bloink & Byrnes Go Thumb to Thumb

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Robert Bloink and William H. Byrnes Robert Bloink and William H. Byrnes

House Democrats introduced a bill in March that would impose a tax on certain types of financial transactions, including a 0.1% tax on various securities transactions, including sales of stocks, bonds and derivatives. While the bill would generally exempt initial securities issuances and short-term debt from the tax, most securities transactions and taxpayers who invest would be subject to the tax at some point.

We asked Professors Robert Bloink and William Byrnes, who write for ALM’s Tax Facts and hold opposing political views, to share their opinions about the viability of the financial transactions tax and the potential implications if this bill is passed.

Their Votes:


Their Reasons:

Below is a summary of the debate that ensued between the two professors:

Byrnes: This is just another crazy Democratic proposal to find yet another way to tax the rich, but, as with most of these proposals, it will actually end up hurting us all. This bill would do nothing but cause harm to investors and the economy as a whole, at a time when we’ve been working to strengthen the job markets while also providing protections for those who invest their hard-earned funds in the financial markets to help grow the economy and make America strong.

Bloink: This minuscule tax would generate an enormous amount of revenue that could be used to support the middle class and working Americans, and would largely be borne by very wealthy investors and banks that make risky and frequent trades in order to generate huge profits for themselves. We need to find some way to fund badly neglected infrastructure projects, reduce the deficit, fund health care research, the list goes on and on, and this tax would raise an estimated 777 billion dollars over 10 years—an amount that would go a long way toward making this country much stronger than it is today.

Byrnes: Professor Bloink is wrong on this one. This tax would negatively impact the everyday middle-class investor who is just trying to save for a home, retirement or maybe for their children’s college, imposing an extra tax that they don’t need or deserve and disincentivizing savings at a time when we need to be doing the opposite.

Bloink: I fundamentally disagree. Not only will this tax have very little taxing impact on middle class investors, but it will actually serve to help protect them from another market crash similar to what we experienced in 2008. Wealthy investors and huge banks enter into complex financial transactions and trades constantly—literally billions per day—and often without sufficient thought as to how their actions might impact anything other than their bottom line. This additional tax might just motivate these players to stop and more fully consider any financial transaction before deciding to execute.

Byrnes: Where do the Democrats think pensions and 401(k)s are invested? These types of savings vehicles would all suffer if this financial transactions tax was implemented. More taxes are not the answer to this country’s problems—we need to allow people to invest their earnings as they see fit and not punish them for trying to save.

Bloink: Almost half of the trades made every day are considered to be high-frequency trades.  Speculation and an almost gambling-like mentality is what got us into the biggest financial mess of our times over 10 years ago. The level of risk and market volatility that this type of trading creates is unacceptable—this is not the sort of market activity that fuels long-term, stable economic growth in this country.

Byrnes: Efficient markets thrive on liquidity—investors and businesses should not be motivated to keep their money in investments that are no longer advantageous in order to avoid a tax on an extra transaction—that creates more harm than good in the long run in weakening the markets.

Bloink: This is from a fairness perspective—we all pay sales tax on transactions, right? Wall Street generally has been exempt from the requirement to pay tax on their transactions, and why? When you buy a newspaper, you pay sales tax. When you buy a stock or bond, you don’t have to pay a sales tax. This current no-tax system is a huge benefit for the super-rich in this country, and I’m all in favor of imposing this small financial transactions tax that would generate huge results for the rest of the country.

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