November 20, 2009

I completely understand the proposal, but the answer is no!

Sir Martin Wolf’s wish to “Tax the windfall banking bonuses” November 20 is such an honest and truly understandable “populist” proposal that it makes us fret what lies in store for the world. In essence it signifies that governments should have the right to claw back in taxes any earnings that resulted from any government largesse. I can already hear future taxpayers lining up the arguments for not having to pay their taxes and asking instead the taxman to go after the neighbour who received an indirect untaxed interest subsidy on his mortgage. Is not this the mother of all slippery slopes?

And then also remains the issue... should a "confiscatory" tax like the one proposed be applied retroactively?

If I, on the spot, must venture an alternative proposal I would prefer decreeing that any compensation in excess of a specific amount, paid in the financial sector, or in a company that has received government support, can only be paid out with shares that are non-tradable for ten years. That I believe would better help to realign the incentives to work for all of us.

If not already here, high-octane populism is waiting for us around the corner, so whatever we can do to postpone or dilute it the better.