“You’d think there is somebody watching the control panel somewhere.” There is not. That’s what the head of one market research firm told the New York Times after a swarm of computerized trades caused craziness on Wall Street Wednesday.
Says Larry Tabb of the Tabb Group, “We still don’t have a firm grasp over our market infrastructure.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Circuit breakers installed after the 2010 “flash-crash” that are supposed to regulate robo-trades don’t. They don’t respond to high volumes of trade and they don’t even turn on until fifteen minutes after the market opens, we learned in the last twenty-four hours.
Market believers are supposed to prefer incentives over regulation. If each of those trades carried a cost, how quickly do you think Wall Street would rein in the robots ?
When we spoke with John Fullerton,  former JP Morgan director and hedge fund head (now with the Capital Insitute ), he cited market instability as his number one reason for endorsing a financial transaction, or “Robin Hood” tax. 
A financial transaction tax (FTT) would impose a small levy on every trade, boosting public revenues but also stabilizing market trading. Economist Robert Pollin talked us through the numbers in last week’s post. Even a modest financial tax could generate $350 billion calculates Pollin.
Watch the full conversation with Pollin here .
The UK already has an FTT. The push for one here is growing. There were more demonstrations in Washington last month, and the cause has backing from a spectrum of people that spans from the stability-minded Fullertons to the cash-conscious National Nurses United . That makes it an achievable goal. Wall Street’s arguments against financial transaction taxes just got a whole lot weaker. Tell me again why the Obama team is against them?