Let Wall Street pay

Let the mega-rich financiers begin paying for the rebuilding of America

Last Thursday, Sept. 1, a group of nurses demonstrated at Rep. Wally Herger’s office at 11 a.m. and then, from noon to 1 p.m., set up a “soup kitchen”—actually, they served Mexican food—in City Plaza. They were among some 10,000 members of the National Nurses Union who mounted similar actions that day in 61 congressional districts as part of their Main Street Campaign.

They called for members of Congress to stop cutting programs that help people and instead begin taking action. Locally, they pointed out that there are 115,000 people in Herger’s district without health insurance, more than 35,000 children who live in poverty, and nearly 23,000 people dependent on food stamps.

Saying it was time for the Wall Street financiers who created the current economic crisis to start contributing to its rebuilding, the nurses called for passage of a transaction tax on the trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives, currency and credit default swaps that could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for desperately needed programs.

More than 15 nations, including the United Kingdom, have such a tax. They’ve been successful in raising revenues without inhibiting financial activity, though they have cooled down dangerous high-speed computerized trading significantly—a good thing.

This is not a new idea. The United States had a financial transaction tax from 1914 to 1966, and following the stock market crash of October 1987, the first President Bush wanted to reinstate it.

The problem is that most of Congress is bought and paid for by Wall Street. Rep. Herger, for example, has received $1.2 million from the financial sector. Getting Congress to pass a financial-transaction tax, no matter how worthwhile, will be difficult. It will happen only if the American people insist on it—and insist hard and persistently.