The idea is that by increasing the cost of high frequency trading and other forms of speculation, these parasitic activities would be reduced:
This week Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Barbara Lee are introducing bills in the Senate and House for a financial transaction tax (FTT). Their proposed tax is similar to, albeit somewhat higher than, the FTT proposed by Senator Brian Schatz earlier this year. The Sanders-Lee proposal would impose a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions, with lower rates on transfers of other financial assets. Senator Schatz’s bill would impose a 0.1 percent tax on trades of all financial assets.
At this point, it is not worth highlighting the differences between the bills. Both would raise far more than half a trillion dollars over the next decade, almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and hedge fund-types. In the case of the Schatz tax, the Congressional Budget Office estimated revenue of almost $80 billion a year, a bit less than 2.0 percent of the budget. The Sanders-Lee tax would likely raise in the neighborhood of $120–$150 billion a year, in the neighborhood of 3.0 percent of the federal budget.
While the financial industry will make great efforts to convince people that this money is coming out of the middle-class’ 401(k)s and workers’ pensions, that’s not likely to be true. This can be seen with some simple arithmetic.
Take a person with $100,000 with a 401(k). Suppose 20 percent of it turns over each year, meaning that the manager of the account sells $20,000 worth of stock and replaces it with $20,000 worth of different stocks. In this case, if we assume the entire 0.5 percent specified in the Sanders-Lee bill is passed on to investors, then this person will pay $100 a year in tax on their 401(k).
While no one wants to pay more in taxes, this hardly seems like a horrible burden. After all, the financial industry typically charges fees on 401(k)s in excess of 1.0 percent annually ($1,000 a year, in this case), and often as much as 1.5 percent or even 2.0 percent.
One of the arguments against the tax is that the forecast revenues are overstated, since there will be less speculative activity as a result of the higher costs.
This a feature, and a highly attractive feature at that, and not a bug, or, as Randall Munroe noted in his xkcd web comic, Mission F%$#ing Accomplished.