Ritchie\’s comments are open again

So, I\’m trying to, politely, get him to see my point:

“I’m well aware conventional economists do not agree – and they have provided not a shred of evidence, let alone logic, to support their case as yet. They simply say the cost will be passed on to others – but when the customer for more than 40% of all trades in this market is another bank and the number of customers overall is tiny there is no logic in that claim – the consumer is identifiable and able to resist the charge.”

You’re still not grasping the point about tax incidence. It isn’t that people attempt to pass on a tax charge. It’s not about intent, people trying to stick others with the bill.

It’s that changes in behaviour caused by the imposition of the tax have effects on other people.

Follow this logical chain for a moment. Tax is added to transactions. Transaction volume falls (you should agree with this so far as your report actually notes it). OK, what do we know about markets that have lower liquidity? They have wider margins, larger differences between bid and ask.

We very much do see this in financial markets. Shares with large trading volumes have lower spreads than shares with low trading volumes. Currencies with low trading volumes have higher spreads than those with large volumes. Futures, derivatives and so on. Non-standard transactions have wider margins than standard exchange traded ones. This link between volume and spreads/margins is both noticeable and entirely uncontroversial.

So, our tax reduces volumes and increases spreads. So, any and every user of these products ends up paying the larger spreads. Every farmer transferring the risk of his wheat crop via a future pays it, every remittance sent through the FX markets, every pension fund that’s invested in any financial product at all, yes, even people buying euros to pay for beer on holiday.

Sure, each and every one of these users is paying a tiny sum….that 0.5% to 0.005% tax….plus however much the margins have widened. As in my earlier comment, we don’t know how much those margins will widen but we’re, unless you’ve got some startling new result, certain that those margins will widen.

And thus the economic burden of the tax hits each and every user of any financial product at all.

No, not because the banks of the bankers are trying to stick people with the tax. But because the reduction in liqudity makes the use of the markets more expensive for everyone.

Depending upon how much the margins increase that burden of the tax could be higher, possibly many times higher, than the amount actually raised by the tax.

The only way this could not be true is by making the assertion that margins will not increase as a result of the tax. Now you can assert that if you like but it would be an hilariously odd thing to try and assert. And as ever, it would be one of those extraordinary claims that would require extraordinary evidence.

So, allow me to ask a question. Do you think that the imposition of an FTT will widen margins in the financial markets or not?

3 comments on “Ritchie\’s comments are open again

  1. Superb comment, Tim. The point about the spread between the bid and offer price is crucial. The general public generally only notices how much they get shafted when bid/offer spreads widen in say, taking out money from a bureau de change at the airport. That is one of the few instances when we ordinary mortals get an idea of why this stuff matters.

    Ask anyone who has a spread-betting account as to whether they think this issue is not important, for example.

    Richard Murphy ultimately knows that by passing on the costs of a tax via wider spreads, the effects will not be immediately apparent to the public. It is a sort of “hidden tax”, which is why looters like Mr Murphy favour such things, of course.

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