Should the US tax bank bonuses?

The New York Times calls for a one-time banker tax, and it scoffs at banks' threats to leave the country.

By Kim Peterson Dec 22, 2009 9:59AM
Banker © Radius Images/Jupiterimages Banks are awarding their executives huge bonuses based on the profits they're making. But those profits were funded by lots of cheap money from the Federal Reserve, The New York Times writes.

"This is a windfall that they should not be allowed to keep," the Times writes in an editorial.

Instead, the U.S. government should take a cue from the British, who recently enacted an immediate 50% tax on bonuses above about $40,000. The British government stands to make about $1 billion from the move.

The U.S. could see a much greater slice, since its financial sector is larger, the Times writes. And the government could use that money to create jobs for out-of-work Americans.

Already, banks are threatening to leave the U.K. Goldman Sachs (GS), for example, has growled about moving 20% of its London employees to Spain.

"This is a global industry and talent is mobile," said the chief executive of Barclays in yet another veiled threat, according to the Independent. "We need a level playing field to make sure that we can compete with the best companies in the world."

But those threats are empty, the Times writes. Where are the bankers going to move? London is out. France is looking to enact a similar tax, and Germany and others could also follow suit.

"It would make little sense for bankers to move halfway around the world to Singapore to avoid a one-off tax that would not affect future bonuses," the Times writes.

A windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses would not be enough, but it would be a start. The government also needs to ensure that all banks reform their compensation practices to better align rewards with performance, good and bad. That is the best hope for curbing bankers’ unbridled appetite for risk.

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