4 May 2014

TEDx Toulouse : Toward a world (almost) free of tax

Yesterday, I gave one of the 15 talks at a TEDx event organised by a group of enthusiatic young people in Toulouse - TEDx Rue Remusat. My thanks to them, and particular to Sophie Guerandel and Théophile Pajot, for putting together a great program. It covered a huge range (as TED conferences should) from the history of Argentinian Tango and the future history of Music, to Gastronomy and Third World Aid. There were four talks on the economy. One was by a Banker, Adrien Anderson, and I take my hat off to him for getting up in public and defending the banking profession. 

There were two presentations on new ideas for the economy by my friends Carole Fabre and Mathieu Bize. Carole talked about the revolution that is underway with the spread of opensource and public domain software, and made a strong case for the idea that money should be treated in the same way. It should be a public utility - not the property of private corporations.  Mathieu talked about the need for an unconditional  citizens income, but also the need to change our democratic systems  - by going back to the original ideas underlying democracy that were developed by the ancient Greeks.

I gave a talk called "Vers un monde (pratiquement) sans taxe' - i.e. Toward a world (almost) free of tax. It was essentially an updated and streamlined presentation of my original idea dating from 2010, in which essentially all the existing taxes are completely replaced by a single universal tax on all electronic financial transactions.

I've been convinced that this idea is truly "an idea worth spreading" - as TED would say - for nearly 4 years now. But yesterday was actually the first time ever when I have got up in public and made my case. It's true that two years ago I had invited myself to give a presentation at the prestigious Toulouse School of Economics. But since only 4 people turned up to listen, it can hardly be counted as a truly public presenation.

I've put versions of that talk on my Youtube site, and some people have watched those. As of today, a total of 550 people have watched the 13 minute version in English that I put online in March 2012, and 267 watched the version in  French that dates from the same time. There are even a few courageous souls who have managed to watch all 5 parts of the full version in English - 25 got as far as watching part 4 for example. A similar small number (25) appear to have watched all four parts of the full length French version.

But yesterday, I had a captive audience of around 100 real people who were apparently riveted by what I had to say. The round of applause that I got was clearly the most enthusiastic of all the 15 talks - not quite a standing ovation, but very gratifying nevertheless.  I really got the impression that people understood what I was proposing and that they could see that there was something truly new here. At the buffet that followed,  I had a long string of people coming to tell me how surprised they had been by what I had to say - that it all seemed so simple, that they couldn't see any reason why it couldn't be done.

I must confess that I was really happy with the result. When we got home, we opened a bottle of English "Champagne" - perhaps to celebrate the beginning of the end for this absurd system where George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, and the UK govenment could even imagine taking 11 Eurozone countries to court for daring to introduce a minuscule tax on financial transactions. As I said in my talk, this cannot be justified on the grounds that a 0.01% tax could be deemed unfair on Osborne's chums in the City who do trillions of trading in Euros every single day.

In my talk, I specifically mentioned the fact that the Bank for International Settlements, which supposedly provides a reasonably complete picture of transactions across the 23 countries in its annual report, clearly is not doing its job. Specifically, I pointed out that UK financial transactions, which the BIS figures put at £1,151,594,000,000,000 in 2008, had dropped more than five-fold by 2012 to a mere £216,845,000,000,000. Was this the result of the financial crisis?

No, the answer is obvious when you look at the figures that I presented in my talk.

The drop is simply because the numbers for one of the biggest players, namely LCH.Clearnet Ltd have been "nav" (i.e. "not available") every year since 2010 - a point that I have repeatedly bemoaned -see here and here for example.  If the BIS had been interested in providing the true numbers, they could have found them.

In my talk, I provided the following table that I downloaded from LCH.Clearnet's website on the 1st of May showing that in a single day, their SwapClear system had processed no less that $2,316 billion dollars worth of interest rates swaps. But the real killer, and the number that I think really made my audience sit up, was the figure showing the percentage of those transactions that were denominated in euros - an unbelievable €1,036,985,938,428 - i.e. over a trillion euros. And all that in a single day - the 30th of April 2014.

It was unfortunate that I was unable to update my Powerpoint presentation before the talk, because yesterday morning, I had had a look at the SwapClear numbers for last Friday - the 2nd of May 2014 - and discovered that the numbers were even more eye watering. - namely  €1,283,894,396,522 in Euro transactions alone.  Here's the table.