Another Way to Avoid the Fiscal Cliff
Earlier this week, Gaius argued that we should pass a sales tax on all Wall Street transactions as a way to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. After all, it was Wall Street that put us in this situation in the first place so they should be the ones to pay.
I agree in principle, but I have a slightly different solution.
If Wall Street were solely comprised of billionaires looting and gaming the system at the expense of everyone else, I’d be inclined to agree. But a sales tax on ALL transactions might affect plenty of people that we’d rather not tax.
For instance, my mother, a professor at the University of Virginia, got some stock options when a company used her work to design a new flu drug. My mother is far from being a day trader and definitely wasn’t invested just for the sake of gambling and greed. And she’s not alone; 54 percent of Americans have at least some money invested in the stock market, down from 65 percent before the financial crisis.
For mere revenue’s sake, I’m sure my mother wouldn’t mind paying a sales tax on the sale of her stock. But if your goal is to punish those who caused the mess, there’s a way to do it without as much collateral damage:
Avoid the Fiscal Cliff by Redefining the Difference Between Long-term and Short-term Capital Gains
Tax capital gains on stock at 99 percent for stock held less than one day. Gradually reduce the rate the longer the stock is held, ending with gains being taxed as regular income after the stock is held for at least a year.
Currently capital gains are taxed at different rates depending on how long the stock is held, but the rates are structured in a way that still rewards gambling. Redefining the difference in this fashion would effectively eliminate the incentive for flash trading and would guarantee that Mitt Romney pays a higher tax rate than his secretary.
This could arguably amount to a larger tax increase than Gaius is proposing, but, unlike a blanket sales tax on all transactions, only affects transactions that lead to a profit. Getting taxed after selling a stock for a loss seems too much like adding insult to injury.
Wall Street in and of itself did not cause the crash; gambling with other people’s money on Wall Street caused the crash. There’s a way to take the incentive to gamble away, and generate revenue, without punishing those who are actually interested in investing long-term with a company.