How Well do Foreign Exchange Markets Function: Might a Tobin Tax Help?

Jeffrey A. Frankel

NBER Working Paper No. 5422
Issued in January 1996
NBER Program(s):   IFM

Figures for 1995 estimate trading by dealers in the foreign exchange market at over $1,200 billion per day, most of it with other dealers. Some have linked this volume to concerns of excessive volatility in the market. Tobin's proposal to address this volatility with a small tax on all foreign exchange transactions has not received the serious attention it deserves. The paper argues that a better case can be made for the proposition that the tax might dampen exchange rate volatility than most economists believe. Calculations show that the tax, unlike some forms of capital control, would fall far more heavily on short-term transactions than long-term. Survey data and a simple model suggest, in turn, that short-term activity can be destabilizing. The paper also offers crude estimates of the revenue that would be raised from the Tobin tax. It is left to other authors to examine a major shortcoming of the proposal, enforceability.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5422

Published: in the Tobin Tax: Coping with Financial Volatility, Mahbub Ul Haq, Inga Kaul and Isabelle Grunberg, eds. Oxford University, (with E. Stein and S.J. Wei), American Economic Review, 86, no.2, May 1996, pp.52-56.

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