Chamber PR Helping its Foes?

| Thu Mar. 11, 2010 5:08 PM EST

The US Chamber of Commerce, a huge, controversial player in the battle to reform Wall Street and beef up consumer protection, launched its latest attack on financial reform efforts today, criticizing a proposed small tax on financial transactions. The tax would take something like 0.1 percent or 0.25 percent of financial transactions such as stock trades, and could use those funds to offset the cost of, say, health care reform or to lower the federal deficit. One liberal policy center said the tax could raise $100 to $150 billion a year.

Today, as part of its PR push, the Chamber released a study (PDF) claiming the tax would damage US markets and hurt Main Street by reducing investments and retirement savings. "This proposal would starve cash-strapped companies and cripple our efficient, transparent, and liquid markets," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. "The good news is that a majority of Americans agree that it’s a bad idea." (Mind you, that "majority of Americans" claim is based on poll of 800 people; everyone can agree that 0.000002 percent of Americans speak for all of us, right?)

Asked about the Chamber's latest PR move, Dean Baker, an economist at the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research who favors the tax, actually thanked the Chamber for releasing the study and making the conclusions it did. For instance, one of the report's biggest conclusions is that the new tax would raise trading costs to what they were in the 1980s—something that Baker says is far from a bad thing. He also said the poll accompanying the report (PDF) actually shows there's a fair amount of public support for the tax. 31 percent of respondents said they thought the tax was necessary because of the damage big financial institutions did to the economy—and that's with polling language clearly intended to sway people against the tax. Tweak the questions a bit, and you might've seen majority support for the tax. "I'm kind of happy," Baker says. "They're doing our work for us. And we didn't have to pay anything."