Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years -- less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few."
President Barak Obama, September 9, 2009
At that moment President Obama had us in his hands. The lousy war. The giveaways to the rich. That was were we had squandered our nation's wealth. He had the golden opportunity to solve two problems at once: paying for universal health care, and not looking like a Wall Street lackey.
All he had to do was to address, and then focus, the anger felt all over America about the incredible rip-off that is called Wall Street. Here's what he might have added to his case:
"My fellow Americans, it is time for those who nearly gambled our economy into the abyss to pay us back for our bailouts and for the harm they have caused us all. Everyone knows that Wall Street spends far too much time and money gambling and speculating. Everyone knows that our economic crash was caused by their fantasy finance casinos. Everyone knows we had to pump in trillions of dollars in cash, loans and asset guarantees to get credit flowing again. And everyone knows our financial wizards are overpaid by any standard. Now is the time to end this irresponsible activity. Now is the time to set our nation on a far sounder course.
"To slow down speculative activity and to help finance health care, I propose a small fee on each and every financial transaction -- like the buying and selling of derivatives, the speculation on oil markets, the betting on currencies. A fee of just one tenth of one percent will generate more than $500 billion over ten years. And 99.9 percent of it will be paid by those "too big to fail" banks, investment companies and hedge funds that still engage in rapid-fire trading around the clock. The time has come for this idea, first put forth by the late James Tobin, the Nobel laureate economist.
"In addition, we need to do something about our obscene distribution of wealth. If you look over the 2007 tax summaries, you'll see that the top 400,000 returns reported as much taxable income as the bottom 65 million! That's the worst distribution of income since the great crash of 1929. That is the money that fuels the Wall Street casino, and we need to redirect it right now to where it is most needed. A 10 percent surcharge on just those with adjustable gross incomes of over $1 million will generate another $400 billion over 10 years.
"Not only will universal health care be fully funded, but we will have stabilized our economy by reducing the size of the speculative casino on Wall Street, and we will have put downward pressure on its outrageous salary structure.
"Yes, Wall Street and the wealthy will certainly object. They might even use their cash to undermine such legislation. But the American people are smarter than that. They will tell their legislators to do the people's business and not Wall Street's. The will demand justice. They know the difference between the pampering of multi-millionaire financial speculators, and what it is like for the millions who have lost their jobs because the casino crashed.
"I say to all of you who are upset with our economic woes, who are angry about the bailouts, and who can't stomach the outrageous financial salaries -- I say to you that these tax proposals are just, fair and economically sound. If you join with me, we can have good health care and a stronger economy for generations to come.
Yes We Can!"
Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.