Larry Summers backs a Tobin tax (or at least he did in 1989)by Bob Kuttner / September 2, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Now that Britain’s top regulator Adair Turner has opened the door to a forbidden subject—Tobin taxes on financial transactions—could the Obama administration embrace such an idea?
Professor Tobin first proposed his tax to address currency speculation. This was in 1972, when the fixed-rate regime of Bretton Woods had collapsed. His concern was that speculative trades were fundamentally distorting currency values and damaging the real economy. The tax that he proposed was intended to damp down the volatility in currency movements, and take much of the profit out of purely speculative, short-term moves.
The early 1970s was a period just after currencies were freed from fixed rates, but before the general financial deregulation that followed. Since that time, speculative trading has distorted not just currency markets, but the broad financial market itself. The volume of short-term trades has grown far faster than the value of the stock market or the real economy. The most recent case in point is ultra high-speed computerised trading, in which very sophisticated traders make trades ahead of ordinary investors. In principle, this is illegal “front running,” and the SEC has begun an investigation. But there are larger policy issues her…