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Posts Tagged ‘50p tax rate’

A 50p top tax rate: more or less money for the government?

The UK Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has announced that, if Labour is returned to power in the next election, it will bring back the 50% top rate of income tax (see also). This will apply to incomes over £150,000.

But will this raise more tax revenue? The question here concerns incentive effects. Will the higher rate of income tax discourage work by those earning £150,000 or encourage tax avoidance or tax evasion, so that the total tax take is reduced? The Conservatives say the answer is yes. The Labour party says no, claiming that there will still be an increase in tax revenue.

The possible effects are summed up in the Laffer curve (see The 50p income tax rate and the Laffer curve). As the previous post stated:

These arguments were put forward in the 1980s by Art Laffer, an adviser to President Reagan. His famous ‘Laffer curve’ (see Economics (8th edition) Box 10.3) illustrated that tax revenues are maximised at a particular tax rate. The idea behind the Laffer curve is very simple. At a tax rate of 0%, tax revenue will be zero – but so too at a rate of 100%, since no-one would work if they had to pay all their income in taxes. As the tax rate rises from 0%, so tax revenue would rise. And so too, as the tax rate falls from 100%, the tax rate would rise. It follows that there will be some tax rate between 0% and 100% that maximises tax revenue.

As Labour is claiming that re-introducing the 50% top rate of income tax will increase tax revenue, the implication is that the economy is to the left of the top of the Laffer curve: that, at current level of income, the curve is still rising.

Work by HMRC, and published in the document The Exchequer effect of the 50 per cent additional rate of income tax, suggested that the previous cut in the top rate from 50% to 45% would cut revenue by around £3.5 billion if there were no incentive effect, but with the extra work that would be generated, the cut would be a mere £100 million. This implies, other things being equal, that a rise in the rate from 45% to 50% would raise only a tiny bit of extra taxes.

However, the HMRC analysis has been criticised and especially its assumptions about the incentive effects on work. Then there is the question of whether a rise in the rate from 45% to 50% would have exactly the reverse effect of a cut from 50% to 45%. And then there is the question of how much HMRC could reduce tax evasion and avoidance.

The following article from the Institute for Fiscal Studies examines the effects. However, the authors conclude that:

… at the moment, the best evidence we have still suggests that raising the top rate of tax would raise little revenue and make, at best, a marginal contribution to reducing the budget deficit an incoming government would face after the next election.

But there is also the question of equity. Putting aside the question of how much revenue would be raised, is it fair to raise the top rate of tax for those on high incomes? Would it make an important contribution to reducing inequality? This normative question lies at the heart of the different views of the world between left and right and is not a question that can be answered by economic analysis.

50p tax – strolling across the summit of the Laffer curve? Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson and David Phillips (Jan 2014)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between tax evasion and tax avoidance.
  2. How would it be possible for a rise in tax rates to generated less tax revenue?
  3. Could policies shift the Laffer curve as opposed to merely resulting in a move along the curve?
  4. What is meant by ‘taxable income elasticity (TIE)’? What are its determinants?
  5. Is the taxable income elasticity at the top of the Laffer curve equal to, above or below zero? Explain.
  6. Why did the Office for Budget Responsibility chairman, Robert Chote, conclude that, whatever the precise answer, we were ‘strolling across the summit of the Laffer curve’?
  7. Explain why ‘there is little additional evidence to suggest that a 50p rate would raise more than was estimated by HMRC back in 2012′.
  8. What contribution can economists make to the debate on the desirability of reducing inequality?
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A 50p controversy

Cutting the budget deficit is a key government objective, but at the moment it seems to be in conflict with another objective, namely economic growth and thereby avoiding a double-dip recession. In order to raise tax revenue and meet the cries for more equity, the 50% tax rate above £150,000 was imposed, affecting some 310,000 people. However, in a recent letter from some top economists to the Financial Times, they called for the scrapping of the top rate of tax. They argue that it is hindering entrepreneurship and encouraging potential top rate tax payers to leave the UK, thereby hindering the economic situation. George Osborne has asked HMRC to evaluate just how effective the top rate of tax has been at generating government revenue.

In contrast to these calls for scrapping this top rate of tax, some of the richest people in the world have said that they would be happy to pay this rate of tax. In the words of Sir Stuart Rose, the ex-boss of Marks and Spencer:

“How would I explain to my secretary that I would pay less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when her tax is not going down.”

Those against scrapping the tax argue that it will be ‘monstrously unfair’ and ‘phenomenally immoral’. This, combined with official figure that suggest by 2015/16 the top rate tax will bring in an extra £3.2bn more revenue than had the tax remained at 40%, certainly adds weight to their argument. In total, over the five year period, it is predicted to bring in an extra £12.6bn.

The policy to increase the tax threshold to £10,000 will meet with the critics’ approval, but less so, if it is accompanied by a scrapping of this top rate tax. Furthermore, the government’s coffers will take a significant beating if both of the above occur!

Another option to replace the 50% tax rate is a higher tax on high value homes – the so-called ‘mansion tax’. Whatever happens with taxation, one thing is clear: the government needs to find a way to generate tax revenue, without putting the economy back into recession. If the 50% tax rate encourages people to leave the UK to avoid the tax or to forego entrepreneurship, it will directly be acting as a disincentive. Fewer jobs will be created due to a lack of entrepreneurship, output may be lower and hence growth will not reach its potential. Crucially, the international competitiveness of the UK economy is being badly affected, as it becomes a less attractive place for investment and talented workers. The following articles consider the 50% tax rate and the controversy surrounding it, despite it only being a temporary policy.

Stuart Rose ‘would pay more tax’ BBC News (9/9/11)
Lawson: ‘dangerous’ and ‘foolish’ to keep 50p tax rate Telegraph, Louisa Peacock (10/9/11)
Rose calls 50p tax rate ‘only fair’ Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby (9/9/11)
Top 50p tax rate damages economy, say economists BBC News (7/9/11)
George Osborne loses nerve on plan to cut 50p top tax rate Independent, Nigel Morris (8/9/11)
Top tax rate will raise £12.6bn more in revenue, official figures reveal Guardian, Polly Curtis (7/9/11)
Laffer curves and the logic of the 50p tax Financial Times, Tim Harford (9/9/11)
Row over ending of 50p tax rate threatens to spark Tory rebellion Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Polly Curtis (7/9/11)
I’d happily pay more tax, says former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose Independent, Andy McSmith (10/9/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main arguments in favour of keeping the 50p tax rate?
  2. What are the main arguments in favour of scrapping the 50p tax rate?
  3. What does the Laffer curve show? Is it relevant in the case of the 50p top rate of tax? What does it suggest about the ability of the tax to generate income?
  4. How does the top rate of tax affect the international competitiveness of the UK economy?
  5. Why is there a trade-off between raising tax revenue and boosting economic growth through the use of the 50p tax rate?
  6. Why is there concern about the highest rate of tax actually causing tax revenue to fall?
  7. What are the equity arguments concerning the scrapping of the 50p tax and raising the tax threshold? Is there an equity argument in favour of the 50p tax rate?
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