I see the panel of economic experts that is the acting industry have latched onto the Tobin tax, now re-branded the ‘Robin Hood Tax’. Never mind that Robin Hood fought against unjust taxes by tyrants: the modern day bogey man is the banker.
Now funny thing is, I do agree with a lot of the sentiment expressed by the morally indignant of Primrose Hill.
Yes, the financial world has grown out of all proportion to the real world
Yes, the rewards for participation in this job seem ludicrously high
Yes, bankers have been bailed out by tax payers and are now furiously spinning the wheels of casino capitalism faster than ever before.
Yes, we should do something about it.
But. Not this.
Firstly, why financial markets are important. The good that these things do is provide a price on the future. They allow us all to insure ourselves against the unknown, whether that be a fixed rate mortgage to buy your house, or a bond issue that allows a company to grow.
Financial markets provide sellers for the shares you want to buy, insurers for risks you want to avoid and lenders when you need to borrow.
Attack the market, and you attack its ability to do this job efficiently. The price will be paid by you.
It is said that the market will absorb the Tobin/Hood/Luvvie tax. Anyone who says this clearly underestimates the ability of a bank to pass on its increased costs. You will either pay directly by higher fees, or indirectly, as the cost of everyday things get more expensive.
And more expensive they will be as the Luvvie tax will infect its way through the whole system. At every stage of production, financial markets are used to quantify and reduce costs. Commodity futures allow manufacturers to fix input costs, freight derivatives allow shippers to control cash flow, forward foreign exchange allows import/export companies to insure against wild market swings, credit insurance allow insurance against default and so on and on.
But surely a tiny transactional tax would pass unnoticed? Well, it may seem tiny, but to many market participants this Luvvie tax will be huge. What people fail to understand is that a regular and competitive price in many instruments come from institutions that are prepared to turn over huge volumes in order to make a net margin often much smaller than the Luvvie tax. In one fell swoop, you make a huge proportion of this trading unprofitable, therefore you take away the ability of the market to provide a price. It’s always the way of ill thought out taxes: unintended consequences. Some arbitrary decision is made, and a myriad of economic activity suddenly becomes futile.
So what? Who needs them? Well, you do. Every time you want to invest in your pension, you will (indirectly) need to buy a bond or some shares. Where do you think the seller comes from? Charity? No, it is the myriad of active traders that act as the buffer between ‘real’ buyers and sellers of these things.
In the end, you will pay by being poorer as a pensioner, by paying more interest on your mortgage and by generally being gouged more by the banks.
And so, we turn to the banks. The true villain of the piece.
The problem with financial markets is that banks are allowed to actively participate in this trading game. It would be less problematic if banks used the markets merely to reduce their risks, but this is not what they do. They see markets as a lucrative opportunity to enhance their profits, and they seize it with both hands.
Why is this bad? Because they punt their customer’s demand deposits. They take the money set aside to pay your gas bill, multiply it up tenfold, then wade onto the casino floor. What allows them to do this with some level of (misplaced) confidence is the myriad of legislative favours, monopoly rights, tax payer protection and political pressure arrayed to support them.
Here at the Cobden Centre, we’ve bleated on time and time again about how fractional reserve banking conjures money out of thin air, but it is worth repeating. You deposit £100 of notes and coin in your current account, and this becomes the property of the bank to do with as they wish. You sign it over to the bank, who lend most of it out. £100 of cash, becomes £197 of purchasing power. Whomever gets £97 loan, deposits it at their bank, and the same happens again and again.
Are you happy that the £100 you think is being safely held aside for your weekly food shopping is being used to fund £1000 of credit default swaps? I thought not.
At the end of the day, what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is of no concern to you. What hedge funds do with their willing clients’ money does not concern anyone but the investor. What pure trading companies do with their retained capital is of no worry to you.
The problem is the banks. An the best way to put a stop to their nefarious influence is not by taxing them and innocent parties. Not by robbing pension funds. Not by forcing you to pay higher fees to manage your financial affairs (as you surely will). No, they way to deal with the problem that banking has become is simple:
Free markets built on the bedrock of honest money.
- Huerta de Soto, Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles
- Baxendale, A day of reckoning: how to end the banking crisis now
- What is wrong with banking, part 1: the legal nature of banking contracts
- Frank Whitson Fetter, Development of British Monetary Orthodoxy 1797 – 1875
- F. A. Hayek, Denationalisation of Money: The Argument Refined
- Gordon Kerr, How To Destroy the British Banking System and Bailing out the Banks – Glaring Evidence of Moral Hazard
- James Tyler, My Journey to Austrianism via the City, Money is not working and How to avoid future encounters with financial meltdown
- Irving Fisher, 100% Money, 1935
I am not a Luvvie and I don’t live in Primrose Hill or anywhere else in London. Like many people (including some notable economists) I do support the Tobin tax though – and wonder why, if you are so sure of your argument, why you need to try and diss people who support it by accusing them of being artists. It sounds silly.
In fact it sounds more than silly, it sounds as if you are trying to win the argument by using stereotypes to whip up some antipathy towards a particular section of society. That’s not progress – that’s going back to the 1930s.
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