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Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

The gig economy

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced in the Budget this week that national insurance contributions (NICs) for self-employed people will rise from 9% to 11% by 2019. These are known as ‘Class 4′ NICs. The average self-employed person will pay around £240 more per year, but those on incomes over £45,000 will pay £777 more per year. Many of the people affected will be those working in the so-called ‘gig economy’. This sector has been growing rapidly in recent years and now has over 4 million people working in it.

Workers in the gig economy are self employed, but are often contracted to an employer. They are paid by the job (or ‘gig’: like musicians), rather than being paid a wage. Much of the work is temporary, although many in the gig economy, such as taxi drivers and delivery people stick with the same job. The gig economy is just one manifestation of the growing flexibility of labour markets, which have also seen a rise in temporary employment, part-time employment and zero-hour contracts.

Working in the gig economy provides a number of benefits for workers. Workers have greater flexibility in their choice of hours and many work wholly or partly from home. Many do several ‘gigs’ simultaneously, which gives variety and interest.

In terms of economic theory, this flexibility gives workers a greater opportunity to work the optimal amount of time. This optimum involves working up to the point where the marginal benefit from work, in terms of pay and enjoyment, equals the marginal cost, in terms of effort and sacrificed leisure.

For firms using people from the gig economy, it has a number of advantages. They are generally cheaper to employ, as they do not need to be paid sick pay, holiday pay or redundancy; they are not entitled to parental leave; there are no employers’ national insurance contributions to pay (which are at a rate of 13.8% for employers); the minimum wage does not apply to such workers as they are not paid a ‘wage’. Also the firm using such workers has greater flexibility in determining how much work individuals should do: it chooses the amount of service it buys in a similar way that consumers decide how much to buy.

Many of these advantages to firms are disadvantages to the workers in the gig economy. Many have little bargaining power, whereas many firms using their services do. It is not surprising then that the Chancellor’s announcement of a 2 percentage point rise in NICs for such people has met with such dismay by the people affected. They will still pay less than employed people, but they claim that this is now not enough to compensate for the lack of benefits they receive from the state or from the firms paying for their services.

Some of the workers in the gig economy can be seen as budding entrepreneurs. If you have a specialist skill, you may use working in the gig economy as the route to setting up your own business and employing other people. A self-employed plumber may set up a plumbing company; a management consultant may set up a management consultancy agency. Another criticism of the rise in Class 4 NICs is that this will discourage such budding entrepreneurs and have longer-term adverse supply-side effects on the economy.

As far as the government is concerned, there is a worry about people moving from employment to self-employment as it tends to reduce tax revenues. Not only will considerably less NIC be paid by previous employers, but the scope for tax evasion is greater in self-employment. There is thus a trade-off between the extra output and small-scale investment that self-employment might bring and the lower NIC/tax revenue for the government.

Articles
Thriving in the gig economy Philippine Daily Inquirer, Michael Baylosis (10/3/17)
6 charts that show how the ‘gig economy’ has changed Britain – and why it’s not a good thing Business Insider, Ben Moshinsky (21/2/17)
What is the ‘gig’ economy? BBC News, Bill Wilson (10/2/17)
Great Freelance, Contract and Part-Time Jobs for 2017 CareerCast (10/3/17)
We have the laws for a fairer gig economy, we just need to enforce them The Guardian, Stefan Stern (7/2/17)
The gig economy will finally have to give workers the rights they deserve Independent, Ben Chu (12/2/17)
Gig economy chiefs defend business model BBC News (22/2/17)
Spring Budget 2017 tax rise: What’s the fuss about? BBC News, Kevin Peachey (9/3/17)
Self-employed hit by national insurance hike in budget The Guardian, Simon Goodley and Heather Stewart (8/3/17)
What national insurance is – and where it goes The Conversation, Jonquil Lowe (10/3/17)
Britain’s tax raid on gig economy misses the mark Reuters, Carol Ryan (9/3/17)
Economics collides with politics in Philip Hammond’s budget The Economist (9/3/17)

UK government publications
Contract types and employer responsibilities – 5. Freelancers, consultants and contractors GOV.UK
Spring Budget 2017 GOV.UK (8/3/17)
Spring Budget 2017: documents HM Treasury (8/3/17)
National Insurance contributions (NICs) HMRC and HM Treasury (8/3/17)

Questions

  1. Give some examples of work which is generally or frequently done in the gig economy.
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages to individuals from working in the gig economy?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages to firms from using the services of people in the gig economy rather than employing people?
  4. In the case of employed people, both the employees and the employers have to pay NICs. Would it be fair for both such elements to be paid by self-employed people on their own income?
  5. Discuss ways in which the government might tax the firms which buy the services of people in the gig economy.
  6. How does the rise of the gig economy affect the interpretation of unemployment statistics?
  7. What factors could cause a substantial growth in the gig economy over the coming years?
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The UK’s public finances

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, delivers his first Autumn statement, both the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) have published updated forecasts for government borrowing and government debt.

They show a rise in government borrowing compared with previous forecasts. The main reason for this is a likely slowdown in the rate of economic growth and hence in tax revenues, especially in 2017. Last March, the OBR forecast GDP growth of 2.2% for 2017; it has now revised this down to 1.4%.

This forecast slowdown is because of a likely decline in the growth of aggregate demand caused by a decline in investment as businesses become more cautious given the uncertainty about the UK’s relationships with the rest of the world post Brexit. There is also likely to be a slowdown in real consumer expenditure as inflation rises following the fall in the pound of around 15%.

But what might be more surprising is that the public finances are not forecast to deteriorate even further. The OBR forecasts that the deficit will increase by a total of £122bn to £216bn over the period from 2016/17 to 2020/21. The NIESR predicts that it will rise by only £50bn to £187bn – but this is before the additional infrastructure spending and other measures announced in the Autumn Statement.

One reason is looser monetary policy. Following the Brexit vote, the Bank of England cut Bank Rate from 0.5% to 0.25% and introduced further quantitative easing. This makes it cheaper to finance government borrowing. What is more, the additional holdings of bonds by the Bank mean that the Bank returns to the government much of the interest (coupon payments) that would otherwise have been paid to the private sector.

Then, depending on the nature of the UK’s post-Brexit relationships with the EU, there could be savings in contributions to the EU budget – but just how much, no-one knows at this stage.

Finally, it depends on just what effects the measures announced in the Autumn Statement will have on tax revenues and government spending. We will examine this in a separate blog.

But even though public-sector borrowing is likely to fall more slowly than before the Brexit vote, the trajectory is still downward. Indeed, the previous Chancellor, George Osborne, had set a target of achieving a public-sector surplus by 2019/20.

But, would eventually bringing the public finances into surplus be desirable? Apart from the dampening effect on aggregate demand, such a policy could lead to underinvestment in infrastructure and other public-sector capital. There is thus a strong argument for continuing to run a deficit on the public-sector capital account to fund public-sector investment – such investment will increase incomes and social wellbeing in the future. It makes sense for the government to borrow for investment, just as it makes sense for the private sector to do so.

Articles
Autumn Statement: Why the damage to the public finances from Brexit might not be as bad as some think Independent, Simon Kirby (22/11/16)
Three Facts about Debt and Deficits NIESR blogs, R Farmer (21/11/16)
Autumn Statement: Big increase in borrowing predicted BBC News, Anthony Reuben (23/11/16)

Data
Economic and fiscal outlook – November 2016 Office for Budget Responsibility (23/11/16)

Questions

  1. Why have the public finances deteriorated?
  2. How much have they deteriorated?
  3. What is likely to happen to economic growth over the next couple of years? Explain why.
  4. How has the cut in Bank Rate and additional quantitative easing introduced after the Brexit vote affected government borrowing?
  5. What is likely to happen to (a) public-sector borrowing; (b) public-sector debt as a proportion of GDP over the next few years?
  6. Why is a running a Budget surplus neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for reducing the government debt to GDP ratio.
  7. What are the arguments for (a) having a positive public-sector debt; (b) increasing public-sector debt as a result of increased spending on infrastructure and other forms of public-sector capital?
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A soft target for a tax

Back in October, we looked at the growing pressure in the UK for a sugar tax. The issue of childhood obesity was considered by the Parliamentary Health Select Committee and a sugar tax, either on sugar generally, or specifically on soft drinks, was one of the proposals being considered to tackle the problem. The committee studied a report by Public Health England, which stated that:

Research studies and impact data from countries that have already taken action suggest that price increases, such as by taxation, can influence purchasing of sugar sweetened drinks and other high sugar products at least in the short-term with the effect being larger at higher levels of taxation.

In his Budget on 16 March, the Chancellor announced that a tax would be imposed on manufacturers of soft drinks from April 2018. This will be at a rate of 18p per litre on drinks containing between 5g and 8g of sugar per 100ml, such as Dr Pepper, Fanta and Sprite, and 24p per litre for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Red Bull.

Whilst the tax has been welcomed by health campaigners, there are various questions about (a) how effective it is likely to be in reducing childhood obesity; (b) whether it will be enough or whether other measures will be needed; and (c) whether it is likely to raise the £520m in 2018/19, falling to £455m by 2020/21, as predicted by the Treasury: money the government will use for promoting school sport and breakfast clubs.

These questions are all linked. If demand for such drinks is relatively inelastic, the drinks manufacturers will find it easier to pass the tax on to consumers and the government will raise more revenue. However, it will be less effective in cutting sugar consumption and hence in tackling obesity. In other words, there is a trade off between raising revenue and cutting consumption.

This incidence of tax is not easy to predict. Part of the reason is that much of the market is a bilateral oligopoly, with giant drinks manufacturers selling to giant supermarket chains. In such circumstances, the degree to which the tax can be passed on depends on the bargaining strength and skill of both sides. Will the supermarkets be able to put pressure on the manufacturers to absorb the tax themselves and not pass it on in the wholesale price? Or will the demand be such, especially for major brands such as Coca-Cola, that the supermarkets will be willing to accept a higher price from the manufacturers and then pass it on to the consumer?

Then there is the question of the response of the manufacturers. How easy will it be for them to reformulate their drinks to reduce sugar content and yet still retain sales? For example, can they produce a product which tastes like a high sugar drink, but really contains a mix between sugar and artificial sweeteners – effectively a hybrid between a ‘normal’ and a low-cal version? How likely are they to reduce the size of cans, say from 330ml to 300ml, to avoid raising prices?

The success of the tax on soft drinks in cutting sugar consumption depends on whether it is backed up by other policies. The most obvious of these would be to impose a tax on sugar in other products, including cakes, biscuits, low-fat yoghurts, breakfast cereals and desserts, and also many savoury products, such as tinned soups, ready meals and sauces. But there are other policies too. The Public Health England report recommended a national programme to educate people on sugar in foods; reducing price promotions of sugary food and drink; removing confectionery or other sugary foods from end of aisles and till points in supermarkets; setting broader and deeper controls on advertising of high-sugar foods and drinks to children; and reducing the sugar content of the foods we buy through reformulation and portion size reduction.

Articles
Sugar tax: How it will work? BBC News, Nick Triggle (16/3/16)
Will a sugar tax actually work? The Guardian, Alberto Nardelli and George Arnett (16/3/16)
Coca-Cola and other soft drinks firms hit back at sugar tax plan The Guardian, Sarah Butler (17/3/16)
Sugar tax could increase calories people consume, economic experts warn The Telegraph, Kate McCann, and Steven Swinford (17/3/16)
Nudge, nudge! How the sugar tax will help British diets Financial Times, Anita Charlesworth (18/3/16)
Is the sugar tax an example of the nanny state going too far? Financial Times (19/3/16)
Government’s £520m sugar tax target ‘highly dubious’, analysts warn The Telegraph, Ben Martin (17/3/16)
Sorry Jamie Oliver, I’d be surprised if sugar tax helped cut obesity The Conversation, Isabelle Szmigin (17/3/16)
Sugar sweetened beverage taxes What Works for Health (17/12/15)

Questions

  1. What determines the price elasticity of demand for sugary drinks in general (as opposed to one particular brand)?
  2. How are drinks manufacturers likely to respond to the sugar tax?
  3. How are price elasticity of demand and supply relevant in determining the incidence of the sugar tax between manufacturers and consumers? How is the degree of competition in the market relevant here?
  4. What is meant by a socially optimal allocation of resources?
  5. If the current consumption of sugary drinks is not socially optimal, what categories of market failure are responsible for this?
  6. Will a sugar tax fully tackle these market failures? Explain.
  7. Is a sugar tax progressive, regressive or proportional? Explain.
  8. Assess the argument that the tax on sugar in soft drinks may actually increase the amount that people consume.
  9. The sugar tax can be described as a ‘hypothecated tax’. What does this mean and is it a good idea?
  10. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of a tax on sugar in soft drinks with (a) banning soft drinks with more than a certain amount of sugar per 100ml; (b) a tax on sugar; (c) a tax on sugar in all foods and drinks.
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The political business cycle – mark II

During the 1970s, commentators often referred to the ‘political business cycle’. As William Nordhaus stated in a 1989 paper. “The theory of the political business cycle, which analyzes the interaction of political and economic systems, arose from the obvious facts of life that voters care about the economy while politicians care about power.”

In the past, politicians would use fiscal, and sometimes monetary, policies to manipulate aggregate demand so that the economy was growing strongly at the time of the next election. This often meant doing unpopular things in the first couple of years of office to allow for popular things, such as tax cuts and increased government transfers, as the next election approached. This tended to align the business cycle with the election cycle. The economy would slow in the early years of a parliament and expand rapidly towards the end.

To some extent, this has been the approach since 2010 of first the Coalition and now the Conservative governments. Cuts to government expenditure were made ‘in order to clear up the mess left by the previous government’. At the time it was hoped that, by the next election, the economy would be growing strongly again.

But in adopting a fiscal mandate, the current government could be doing the reverse of previous governments. George Osborne has set the target of a budget surplus by the final year of this parliament (2019–20) and has staked his reputation on achieving it.

The problem, as we saw in the blog, Hitting – or missing – the government’s self-imposed fiscal targets is that growth in the economy has slowed and this makes it more difficult to achieve the target of a budget surplus by 2019–20. Given that achieving this target is seen to be more important for his reputation for ‘sound management’ of the public finances than that the economy should be rapidly growing, it is likely that the Chancellor will be dampening aggregate demand in the run-up to the next election. Indeed, in the latest Budget, he announced that specific measures would be taken in 2019–20 to meet the target, including a further £3.5 billion of savings from departmental spending in 2019–20. In the meantime, however, taxes would be cut (such as increasing personal allowances and cutting business rates) and government spending in certain areas would be increased. As the OBR states:

Despite a weaker outlook for the economy and tax revenues, the Chancellor has announced a net tax cut and new spending commitments. But he remains on course for a £10 billion surplus in 2019–20, by rescheduling capital investment, promising other cuts in public services spending and shifting a one-off boost to corporation tax receipts into that year.

But many commentators have doubted that this will be enough to bring a surplus. Indeed Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, stated on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme said that “there’s only about a 50:50 shot that he’s going to get there. If things change again, if the OBR downgrades its forecasts again, I don’t think he will be able to get away with anything like this. I think he will be forced to put some proper tax increases in or possibly find yet further proper spending cuts”.

If that is the case, he will be further dampening the economy as the next election approaches. In other words, the government may be doing the reverse of what governments did in the past. Instead of boosting the economy to increase growth at election time, the government may feel forced to make further cuts in government expenditure and/or to raise taxes to meet the fiscal target of a budget surplus.

Articles
Budget 2016: George Osborne hits back at deficit critics BBC News (17/3/16)
George Osborne will have to break his own rules to win the next election Business Insider, Ben Moshinsky (17/3/16)
Osborne Accused of Accounting Tricks to Meet Budget Surplus Goal Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell and Robert Hutton (16/3/16)
George Osborne warns more cuts may be needed to hit surplus target Financial Times, Jim Pickard (17/3/16)
6 charts that explain why George Osborne is about to make austerity even worse Independent, Hazel Sheffield (16/3/16)
Budget 2016: Osborne ‘has only 50-50 chance’ of hitting surplus target The Guardian, Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott (17/3/16)
How will Chancellor George Osborne reach his surplus? BBC News, Howard Mustoe (16/3/16)
Osborne’s fiscal illusion exposed as a house of credit cards The Guardian, Larry Elliott (17/3/16)
The Budget’s bottom line: taxes will rise and rise again The Telegraph, Allister Heath (17/3/16)

Reports, analysis and documents
Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2016 Office for Budget Responsibility (16/3/16)
Budget 2016: documents HM Treasury (16/3/16)
Budget 2016 Institute for Fiscal Studies (17/3/16)

Questions

  1. Explain the fiscal mandate of the Conservative government.
  2. Does sticking to targets for public-sector deficits and debt necessarily involve dampening aggregate demand as an election approaches? Explain.
  3. For what reasons may the Chancellor not hit his target of a public-sector surplus by 2019–20?
  4. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of a rules-based fiscal policy and one based on discretion.
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Hitting – or missing – the government’s self-imposed fiscal targets

On election to office in May 2015, the UK’s Conservative government set new fiscal targets. These were set out in an updated Charter for Budget Responsibility. As Box 12.3 in Essentials of Economics (7th edition) states:

The new fiscal mandate set a target for achieving a surplus on public-sector net borrowing by the end of 2019/20. More controversially, government should then target a surplus in each subsequent year unless real GDP growth falls below 1 per cent … Meanwhile, the revised supplementary target for public-sector debt was for the net debt-to-GDP ratio to fall each year from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

What is more, the Charter requires the government to set a cap on welfare spending over a five-year period. Such spending includes spending on pensions, tax credits, child benefit and unemployment benefit. In July 2015 the Chancellor set this cap at £115bn for 2016/17, a reduction of £12bn.

Whether or not such a tight fiscal target is desirable, the government has been missing the target. In November last year, the Chancellor had to backtrack on his plans to make substantial reductions in tax credits and as a result the welfare cap has been breached, as the following table from page 5 of the December 2015 House of Commons briefing paper shows.

Also, with the slowing of economic growth, the Chancellor has stated that he will miss the requirement for a fall in the net debt-to-GDP ratio unless further cuts in government spending are made, equivalent to 50p in every £100.

But, if the economy is slowing, is it right to cut government expenditure? In other words, should there be some discretion in fiscal policy to respond to economic circumstances? There are two issues here. The first is whether the resulting cut in aggregate demand will be detrimental to growth. The second is who will bear the cost of such cuts. Critics of the government claim that it will largely the poor who will lose if the cuts are made mainly from benefits.

The articles below examine the public finances, the difficulties George Osborne has been facing in sticking to his fiscal mandate and the options open to him.

Articles
Budget 2016: Osborne’s economic fitness regime BBC News, Andy Verity (14/3/16)
Budget 2016: George Osborne fuels speculation of nasty shocks The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Anushka Asthana (14/3/16)

Official publications
Charter for Budget Responsibility: Summer Budget 2015 update HM Treasury (July 2015)
OBR publications, including ‘Economic and fiscal outlook’ and ‘Fiscal sustainability report’ Office for Budget Responsibility

Questions

  1. Outline the main points of the Charter for Budget Responsibility (CBR).
  2. What are the arguments for sticking to fiscal rules, such as those in the CBR?
  3. What are the arguments for using discretion to adjust fiscal policy as economic circumstances change?
  4. Compare the Conservative government’s fiscal mandate with the newly announced approach to fiscal policy of the Labour opposition?
  5. How does the Labour Party’s new approach differ from the Golden Rule followed by Gordon Brown as Chancellor in the Labour government from 1997 to 2007?
  6. What factors will determine whether or not the government will return to meeting the rules set out in the Charter for Budget Responsibility?
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Assumptions about taxable income elasticity

On 21 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the 2012 Budget for the UK. The details of the tax and benefit changes can be found in the Budget Report, with the Treasury’s summary of the tax changes here.

One of the key elements in the Budget was the reduction in the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45% from April 2013. The Chancellor argued that the introduction of the 50% rate in 2010 had raised very little extra tax revenue. Partly this was the result of people managing their tax affairs so that they could bring forward income to the year before the 50% rate was introduced – a practice known as forestalling. People are likely to do the reverse with the latest tax change and delay receiving income until next year. For details of the effects of forestalling, see the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Economic and fiscal outlook charts and tables Box 4.2a.

But part of the reason for the 50% tax rate raising relatively little has been the effect on incentives. A rise in the top rate of income tax can encourage people to move from the country – or move their incomes; it may discourage top earners from working more; it may encourage people to engage in various tax avoidance schemes; it may encourage people to evade taxes by not declaring all their income.

The effect of a rise (or fall) in the marginal income tax rate (t) on taxable income is given by the taxable income elasticity (TIE). This is defined as the proportionate change in taxable income (Y) divided by the proportionate change in the net-of-income-tax rate (r) (where r = 100 – t: i.e. the percentage of an extra pound that is not paid in income tax, but is retained by the taxpayer for spending or saving). TEI is thus ΔY/Y ÷ Δr/r. The larger the disincentive effect of raising taxes, the more will taxable income fall and hence the higher will be the value of TIE.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in 2010 based its calculations on a TIE of 0.35 for the rise in the top marginal rate of income tax from 40% to 50%. This means that for each 1% fall in the net-of-income-tax rate, taxable income would fall by 0.35%. With a TIE of 0.35, the OBR calculated that the new top rate would bring an extra £2.9bn per year by 2011-12 (after allowing for any temporary residual effects of forestalling). However, the OBR now believes that the TIE is significantly higher and that the 50% rate will bring only an extra £0.7bn in 2011/12.

In its analysis of the effects of a cut in the top rate from 50% to 45%, the OBR has assumed a TIE of 0.45.

Turning to the costing of the move to 45 per cent, measured against our baseline that reflects the new information on the 50 per cent yield, we have endorsed as reasonable and central the Government’s estimate that the underlying cost would be around £0.1 billion in 2013-14, based on an assumed TIE of 0.45. The figure is as low as this because a TIE of 0.45 implies that the revenue-maximising additional tax rate is around 48 per cent. Moving from just above to just below this rate would therefore have very little revenue impact. Moving the additional rate back to 40 per cent would take it further below the revenue maximising rate and would thus be more expensive at roughly an additional £600 million. But for the reasons set out above we would again emphasise the huge uncertainties here.

Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2012 (p110)

The government’s arguments for reducing the top tax rate, therefore, are that it will have little effect on tax revenue, but would have a significant effect in encouraging inward investment, discouraging emigration of high earners and encouraging high earners to work more.

Articles
Rich tax cuts offset by changes to relief Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: A big debate about small numbers (cont’d) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: End of 50p tax, but 45p rate here to stay The Telegraph, Robert Winnett (21/3/12)
Budget 2012: Top income tax rate ‘won’t go any lower than 45p’ This is Money, Tim Shipman (22/3/12)
Why is tax avoidance a reason for letting people off tax? New Statesman, Alex Hern (22/3/12)
Study: Millionaires Don’t Flee States Due To Tax Hikes Think Progress, Pat Garofalo (22/3/12)
Laffer Curve Fun, with a side serving of nepotism Mark Wadsworth blog (22/3/12)
Budget 2012: are we really all in this together? Guardian, Polly Curtis (21/3/12)
Did the 50p tax rate really raise less than £1 billion in 2010/11? Touch Stone, Howard Reed (22/3/12)
45p: Power beats evidence Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris Dillow (22/3/12)

Reports, documents and presentations
Economic and fiscal outlook – March 2012 OBR
Budget 2012 HM Treasury (21/3/12)
Budget 2012 IFS (March 2012)
The Exchequer effect of the 50 per cent additional rate of income tax HMRC (March 2012)
Can More Revenue be Raised by Increasing Income Tax Rates for the Very Rich? IFS, Mike Brewer and James Browne (2009)
The 50p income tax rate IFS, James Browne (March 2012)

Questions

  1. What are the arguments for and against reducing the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%? Do the same arguments apply to a further reduction to 40%?
  2. According to the OBR, at what top tax rate is the top of the Laffer curve?
  3. Why are the OBR’s calculations subject to considerable possible error?
  4. Why might a fall in the top tax rate from 50% to 40% not exactly reverse all the effects of an earlier rise in the top tax rate from 40% to 50%? In other words, why may the effects not be symmetrical?
  5. Distinguish between the income and substitution effects of a change in income tax rates. Which is assumed to be larger by the OBR in the case of reducing the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%? Explain.
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A supply-side Budget?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the annual Budget on 23 March. He was very keen to have a ‘Budget for growth’ given the pessimism of consumers (see Table 1, UK, line 3, in Business and Consumer Survey Results, February 2011) and the bad news on inflation (see 4.4% and rising?).

But what could he do? Despite being urged by the Labour opposition to stimulate aggregate demand by cutting the deficit more slowly, he ruled out this alternative. It would be perceived by markets, he argued, as a sign that he was ‘gong soft’ on the commitment to tackle the deficit.

If stimulating aggregate demand directly was out, the alternative was to use supply-side policy: to provide more favourable conditions for business by cutting ‘red tape’, providing tax incentives for investment, reducing regulations, simplifying tax, cutting corporation tax financed by tax increases elsewhere, creating 21 ‘enterprise zones’ and funding extra apprenticeships and work experience placements.

The links below give details of the measures and consider their likely effectiveness. Crucially, the Budget will be much more successful in encouraging investment if people think it will be successful. In other words, its success depends on how it affects people’s expectations. Will it help confidence to return – or will the impending tax increases and cuts on government expenditure only make people more pessimistic?

Webcasts
Budget: Chancellor George Osborne opens speech BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: Osborne wants to ‘simplify taxes’ BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: Osborne lowers corporation tax BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: BBC business editor Robert Peston BBC News (23/3/11)
Enterprise Zones on the way back Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (22/3/11)

Articles
Osborne’s Budget ‘to fuel growth’ BBC News (23/3/11)
A budget for big business BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: tax grab is the real story Guardian, Patrick Collinson (23/3/11)
Budget 2011 – full details Independent (23/3/11)
Osborne shakes up corporation tax Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (23/3/11)
Osborne unveils ‘Budget for growth’ Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott and Chris Giles (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: Guardian columnists’ verdict Guardian, Jackie Ashley, Martin Kettle, George Monbiot, Julian Glover (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: a million low-paid people escape tax but fiscal drag catches others The Telegraph, Ian Cowie (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: some good news and lots of micro-management The Telegraph, Janet Daley (23/3/11)
Micro trumps macro BBC News Blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (23/3/11)
George Osborne, growing giant of the Tory party, launches ‘slow burn’ Budget Guardian, Nicholas Watt (23/3/11)

Budget documents
2011 Budget, HM Treasury (23/3/11)
Budget 2011 press notice, HM Treasury (23/3/11)
2011 Budget documents, HM Treasury (23/3/11)

Questions

  1. What supply-side policies were included in the Budget?
  2. What will be the impact of the Budget measures on aggregate demand?
  3. What are the major factors that are likely to influence the rate of economic growth over the coming months?
  4. What would have been the advantages and disadvantages of a more expansionary (or less contractionary) Budget?
  5. What will be the effects of the Budget measures on the distribution of income (after taxes and benefits)?
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4.4% and rising?

In March 2009, the Bank of England’s base rate was slashed to 0.5% in a bid to boost aggregate demand and stimulate the UK economy. Since then it has remained at the same level. Interest rates are used by the Bank of England, which aims to keep inflation at the 2% target within a 1% gap either side. However, inflation has been above 3% for some 15 months and the latest figures for February 2011 show that inflation is rising. In January, it was 4%, but data for February calculates an inflation rate of 4.4% – significantly above the Bank of England’s target rate of 2% and above the forecast rate for the month.

One of the causes of such high inflation is the price of fuel, food and clothing. No-one can have failed to notice that petrol prices are higher than ever and this is one of the factors contributing to an increase in the level of prices throughout the economy. Clothing and footwear costs, which rose by 3.6% after the January sales have also contributed to this rising figure and will put increasing pressure on the MPC to raise interest rates in the not so distant future.

In the February 2011 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee, interest rates were kept at 0.5%, despite markets pricing the chance of a rate rise at 20%. The negative growth experienced in the final quarter of 2010 is likely to have influenced this decision, but will the inflation data we’re now seeing influence the next meeting of the MPC. This undoubtedly puts pressure on the central bank to increase interest rates to try to get inflation back on target. The cost? It could put the recovery in jeopardy and create the possibility of a double-dip recession. There is a conflict here and whatever happens to interest rates, some groups will say it’s the wrong decision. As David Kern said:

“The MPC must be careful before it takes action that may threaten the fragile recovery, particularly in the face of a tough austerity plan.”

Perhaps the Budget will provide us with some more information about how the government intends to cut the hole in public finances, ensure that the economy does not fall back into recession and keep inflation under control.

UK inflation revives talk of early interest rate rise Reuters, David Milliken and Christina Fincher (22/3/11)
How to inflation-proof your savings Telegraph, Emma Simon (22/3/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 4.4% in February BBC News (22/3/11)
Interest rates: What the economists say Guardian (10/2/11)
Q&A: Impact of rising inflation Guardian, Phillip Inman (22/3/11)
Inflation soars to over double target rate Sky News, Hazel Baker (22/3/11)
Inflation and public borrowing add to budget 2011 headaches Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/3/11)
Inflation cutting savers’ options BBC News, Kevin Peachey (22/3/11)
Inflation: What the economists say Guardian (22/3/11)

Questions

  1. Is inflation likely to continue going up? What might stop the rise?
  2. Why are interest rates such an important tool of monetary policy?
  3. What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation?
  4. What are the costs of high inflation? Does anyone benefit?
  5. Who would gain and who would lose if interest rates are increased in the next MPC meeting?
  6. Which factors have contributed towards rising inflation in the UK? Is it cost-push or demand-pull inflation?
  7. Why does this pose a dilemma for the government in terms of public finances and the recession?
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The same taxing question

With the UK economy borrowing 11% of GDP, it is undeniable that spending cuts are needed. Of course, the big question is should they be occurring now or delayed until the recovery is more stable. However, another question is now being asked. Should taxes be cut to help the worse off? David Cameron says that this is out of the question. While he is a ‘tax-cutting Tory’ who ‘believes in tax cuts’, any significant cuts in taxes specifically aimed at the poor would simply make matters worse, especially as the Coalition government is already helping to move thousands of families out of taxation altogether, albeit by increasing taxes on the better off.

“It’s no good saying we’re going to deal with the deficit by cutting spending, but then we’re going to make things worse again by cutting taxes. I’m afraid it doesn’t add up.”

Those in favour of cutting taxes include John Redwood, the head of the Tory’s economic affairs committee, who argues that they would help to boost the economy, by ‘encouraging the wealth creators and the private sector’. By reducing the burden on residents, disposable income will increase, helping to stimulate consumption and investment, which should in turn boost aggregate demand. This would be a much needed stimulus following the latest data which showed: a shrinking economy once again in the last quarter of 2010, consumer confidence at its lowest level in the past 20 years, the possibility of unstable markets should the government be seen to ‘twitch’ on the austerity drive and 57% in a YouGov poll saying that the cuts are ‘being imposed unfairly’. Public approval for the Coalition’s budget deficit reduction strategy has fallen from 53% in June 2010 to 38% in February 2010. Add to this rising inflation and unemployment and the last thing people want to hear is surely ‘No big tax cuts’.

However, the budget deficit must be tackled: now or later. Whenever it happens and whichever party is in power, spending must be cut and/or tax revenues must rise and everyone will have to play their part.

Cameron: ‘Tax cuts impossible right now’ Sky News (6/2/11)
David Cameron says major tax cuts not possible BBC News (6/2/11)
Cameron vows ‘No to big tax cuts’ The Press Association (6/2/11)
David Cameron: Sorry, but we can’t afford tax cuts Telegraph, Patrick Hennessy (5/2/11)
George Osborne faces Conservative pressure for tax cuts BBC News (1/2/11)
Nick Clegg’s tax cuts will cost £4.3 billion, says IFS Telegraph, James Kirkup (2/2/11)
Doubts mount over Cameron’s austerity drive Associated Press (6/2/11)
Sorry it is so complicated BBC 2, Daily Politics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)

Questions

  1. What is government borrowing? Who does the government borrow from?
  2. Analyse the impact of tax cuts on the economy. Think about which groups will be affected the most and in what ways.
  3. Which components of aggregate demand will be affected by cuts in spending and rising taxes?
  4. ’Cuts in taxation would boost the economy.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
  5. What will be the impact of tas cuts on the government’s macroeconomic objectives, given your answer to question 3?
  6. What are the arguments (a) for cutting the budget deficit now and (b) for cutting the budget deficit later?
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A Budget emergency

A large deficit which needs cutting and this needs decisive action. This was the gist of the message from George Osborne, and generally from the Coalition government. Although there is nothing confirmed in terms of what to expect, it is thought that there will be a proposal to ease National Insurance for new businesses. He said:

“And so we’ve got to deal with that [the country in Europe with the largest budget deficit of any major economy]. In that sense it’s an unavoidable Budget, but what I’m determined to do is to make sure that the measures are tough but they’re also fair and that we’re all in this together and that, as a country, we take the steps necessary to actually provide the prosperity for the future.”

We already know that there are plans in place to increase capital gains tax from 18% to nearer 40%, but beyond that, little is known. There are concerns that this policy may actually cost the government more in tax revenue than it will raise. Other policies we might expect include a rise in VAT, and a slashed spending budget for pensions. These spending cuts and tax rises will help Osborne to eliminate the structural deficit in current spending by 2015, when the Coalitions’ current term comes to an end. The success of the Coalition’s policies and their ability to reduce the deficit without causing the economy to fall back into recession will be crucial in determining whether the current term is the only term.

Budget 2010: Britain on ‘road to ruin’ without cuts (including video) BBC News (20/6/10)
Where could spending axe fall? BBC News (9/6/10)
George Osborne says emergency budget cuts will be ‘tough but fair’ Guardian, Larry Elliott, Toby Helm, Anushka Asthana and Maev Kennedy (20/6/10)
Budget 2010: capital gains tax Telegraph (20/6/10)
What’s the Chancellor planning to take away in reverse Christmas budget Independent, Alison Shepherd and Julian Knight (20/6/10)
Public borrowing at a peak, says ONS, but tough budget awaits Independent, Sean O’Grady (20/6/10)
A bloodbath none was prepared for Financial Times, Martin Wolf (22/6/10)

Questions

  1. To what extent is it necessary to cut the budget deficit now and not delay it until the recovery is more secured?
  2. How will easing National Insurance for small businesses affect the economy?
  3. If capital gains tax goes up, why is there concern that this could actually cost the government? How is this possible?
  4. The Lib Dems will oppose any increase in VAT, as they argue it is a regressive tax. What does this mean?
  5. How will the report by the Office for Budget Responsibility have affected Osborne’s emergency budget?
  6. What is the structural budget deficit? Illustrate it on a diagram.
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