Wall Street waged war on the American economy and middle class with its reckless gambling.
It wasn’t Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac that crashed the economy. It wasn’t the federal government. It wasn’t hapless homeowners who were sold mortgages they couldn’t afford. It was Wall Street financiers that aggressively sought and bought mortgages to package and sell as derivatives, which the banks could wager on.
Americans bailed out Wall Street, handing it a Marshall Plan for reconstruction after its bad bets blew up the world economy. Now, three years later, happy days are here again for the Wall Street banksters. They’re hauling in big profits and paying outrageous bonuses. But the American middle class continues to suffer high unemployment, record foreclosures and rising poverty.
So it’s time for Wall Street to pay reparations. It’s time for a crash tax, a tiny sales tax on Wall Street transactions, the revenues from which would pay for Main Street restoration. It’s time for the 1 percent to repay the 99 percent, for Wall Street to share in the sacrifices necessitated by its rogue behavior.
The levy, sometimes called a Tobin Tax after the American economist and Nobel Laureate James Tobin, who endorsed it in the 1970s, is far from shocking or novel. A financial transaction tax is advocated by a huge range of groups and individuals, from billionaires to conservative heads of state. Thirty nations, including Great Britain and Switzerland, already tax some financial transactions. The United States imposed a similar tax from 1914 to 1966. In addition to raising revenue in a time of government deficits worldwide, the tax would suppress the very kind of risky speculation that got the global economy into this mess.
Supporters of the tax include the expected — the AFL-CIO, Democratic benefactor George Soros, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and economist Dean Baker, one of the few who saw the housing bubble and predicted its bursting. The unexpected include billionaires Bill Gates and Peter G. Peterson; former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker. Conservative political leaders behind it include German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Experts promoting it include Nobel Laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Moral leaders advocating for it include Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Here’s what Archbishop Williams wrote in support of imposing the levy:
“There is still a powerful sense around – fair or not – of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of messages not getting through; of impatience with a return to “business as usual” represented by still soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices.”
The European Commission recommended in September that the 27 European Union member countries adopt a .1 percent tax on financial transactions beginning in 2014. It estimated that the tax would raise $78 billion a year. Europe hesitates to institute the tax without a similar levy in the United States.
Earlier this month, two U.S. lawmakers who have long supported the levy introduced legislation to impose a smaller tax — .03 percent or 3 cents on $100 in transactions. The tax proposed by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would raise about $350 billion over a decade.
Here’s what Sen. Harkin said about it:
“I think it’s fair. I think it’s just. I think it’s a reasonable way of raising revenue.”
That’s the gist of it. It’s fair. Wall Street caused the crash. It caused devastating unemployment. It exacerbated deficit problems in the United States, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. If the market hadn’t crashed, sustained higher tax revenues would have prevented these difficulties from intensifying.
Now, in countries worldwide, including the United States, conservatives are demanding austerity to deal with deficits. They refuse to ask financial speculators to help pay for the trouble they caused. Instead, these conservatives demand that the middle class and the poor foot the bill. American conservatives insist the middle class lose Social Security benefits, accept Medicare and Medicaid cuts, subsist with fewer teachers, firefighters and police officers.
The 99 percent have sent a pretty clear message, however, that they’re fed up and they’re not going to take unshared sacrifice anymore.
They told Bank of America where it could put its proposed monthly fee on debit cards. They told Ohio governor John Kasich where he and fellow conservatives could put their law denying public workers the right to collectively bargain for a better life. And in parks across America and around the world, the 99 percent are telling the 1 percent where they can put their demand that sacrifice be suffered only by the 99 percent.
The crash tax is, essentially, a sales tax on financial transactions. The middle class pays sales tax on all the stuff it purchases. There should be no special exceptions. The 1 percent should be paying sales tax on the purchase of risky derivatives and on bets that derivatives will fail. This is equity. This is simple fairness.
Some call this levy a Robin Hood tax. But that’s not right. This is not robbing the rich to give to the poor. This is charging the 1 percent a just share.
This is holding speculators accountable. This is individual responsibility, the concept the GOP claims to love. Wall Street bombed the world economy. Now it’s obligated to participate in financing recovery, to pay reparations to Main Street.
Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger