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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Davidoff: Beware the Unintended Consequences of a Financial Transactions Tax

NY Times DealBookNew York Times DealBook:  In Wall St. Tax, a Simple Idea but Unintended Consequences, by Steven M. Davidoff (Ohio State):

Some say that a financial transaction tax is a cost-free way to kill many a bird with one stone — raising revenue, preventing financial crashes and making markets safer. But advocates of this neat idea conveniently ignore the century of less-than-successful experience with this tax, including New York State’s own failed attempt.

The idea behind a financial transaction tax, which is a tax on individual market trades, has a smart pedigree. John Maynard Keynes suggested it, and James Tobin, a Nobel laureate in economics, was its most famous modern advocate. Tobin, who died in 2002, wanted to “throw some sand in the wheels” of the markets, and his idea, endorsed by Joseph Stiglitz and Lawrence H. Summers among others, is based on an increasingly held belief that markets are far from efficient. Imposing a transaction tax on each individual trade would eliminate wasteful trading and reduce market volatility, ending short-term speculation and mispricing of assets. ...

It seems to be a win for everyone. Unfortunately, the reality has been much different. ... Instead of rushing into the adoption of a financial transaction tax, it may behoove us to watch and see whether these new taxes in Europe work. And even if the United States plunges ahead, history tells us that any tax should be carefully structured and considered before being put into effect. For there are likely to be many unintended consequences. There’s a reason that economists say there is no free lunch.

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