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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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What’s more important: the volume or the value of the Scotch you drink?

In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.

Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.

Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?

The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.

But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:

A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.

Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:

We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.

The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.

Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)

Questions

  1. Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
  2. Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
  3. When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
  4. What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
  5. Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
  6. Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
  7. Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
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A 3p delay?

Increases in the cost of living over the past few years have put many families under financial pressure. One of the main factors that has been hurting households is the price of petrol and diesel. Road fuel duty was due to be increased last August, but the Chancellor delayed it in June. However, a planned 3p rise in duty by the Coalition, which has faced rebellion from numerous MPs may now be delayed further, following a hint from the Treasury.

The government has said that it will do everything it can to support struggling families with the cost of living and this has led many to conclude that in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor will delay the planned 3p rise. Labour was defeated in its efforts to force a delay of the proposed 3p duty rise, as Tory bankbenchers were given this hint that the Treasury would decide to delay the increase anyway. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that fuel duty is part of the government’s strategy to help cut the cost of living. He commented that fuel duty was 20% lower in real terms compared to March 2000, when it was at its peak.

If we had continued with the policies of the previous government, quite simply prices would be higher, fuel would be 10p more expensive per litre. I know some will call for a further freeze in fuel duty today. I can assure them this government understands the financial pressures hard-working families are facing. Subject to the constraints of the public finances, this government is determined to help families with the cost of living.

A key economic question to consider is why is fuel one of the products that is frequently taxed? When a tax is imposed on a product, its price will rise and as the law of demand tells us, this will cause people to purchase less of it. But, what is so special about petrol? Why do people continue to purchase petrol even when its price rises? The following articles consider the concerns surrounding the 3p fuel duty rise.

Treasury to defer planned increase in fuel duty The Guardian, Nicholas Watt (13/11/12)
Asda chief Andy Clarke urges scrapping fuel duty rise BBC News (15/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Labour to force vote to delay 3p rise The Guardian, Helene Mulholland (12/11/12)
Fuel duty delay called for by Which? BBC News (11/11/12)
Fuel Duty: Government may still axe increase Sky News (13/11/12)
Chancellor heads off fuel duty rebellion Financial Times, George Parker (12/11/12)
Osborne pressed to shelve fuel duty rise Financial Times, George Parker (8/11/12)
Planned 3p petrol increase could be abandonedThe Telegraph, Christopher Hope (11/11/12)

Questions

  1. Why is petrol a good that is taxed so heavily?
  2. Illustrate the impact of a tax on petrol using a demand and supply diagram. Explain what happens to the equilibrium price and quantity.
  3. Which factors will make the change in price and quantity relatively larger or smaller? Think about how elasticity is relevant here.
  4. What other factors have contributed towards the increased cost of living over the past few years?
  5. Which factors in particular would make a January rise in fuel duty especially painful for many families?
  6. What are the arguments both for and against delaying the 3p rise in duty?
  7. According to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, fuel duty is 20% lower in real terms. What does this actually mean?
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Taxing fatty products

The problem of obesity and healthy eating is a growing problem in many countries and governments have long been looking into designing policy to tackle this issue.

Some have gone for healthy eating campaigns and policies to encourage pregnant women to eat better, but one government took it a step further and introduced a Fat Tax. In October 2011, the Danish government introduced a tax on foods that are high in saturated fat in a bid to reduce consumption of these goods. However, this policy is now to be abolished.

The Fat Tax introduced by the government imposed a surcharge on foods that contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. Numerous products were affected, including meats, dairy and as expected – processed foods. The policy was criticised by scientists who said that saturated fat was the wrong target and perhaps they were proved right, but the government’s u-turn, which will now see the tax being abolished. The tax had gradually increased food prices throughout the country and authorities said that it had even put Danish jobs at risk.

With food prices much higher in Denmark with the tax, consumers switched from buying domestically produced goods to crossing the border into Germany and purchasing their cheaper food. This undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the Danish economy, as it represented a cut in consumer expenditure. Perhaps it also helps to explain Germany’s strong economy – it was feeding 2 nations! The Danish tax ministry said:

‘The fat tax and the extension of the chocolate tax — the so-called sugar tax — has been criticised for increasing prices for consumers, increasing companies’ administrative costs and putting Danish jobs at risk … At the same time it is believed that the fat tax has, to a lesser extent, contributed to Danes travelling across the border to make purchases … Against this background, the government and the (far-left) Red Green Party have agreed to abolish the fat tax and cancel the planned sugar tax’

Once the tax is abolished, other policies will need implementing to tackle the problem of obesity and encourage healthy eating, as it continues to be a big problem in this and many other countries. The following articles consider this problem.

Denmark to scrap world’s first fat tax Associated Press (10/11/12)
Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods BBC News (10/11/12)
Fat tax repealed The Copenhagen Post (10/11/12)
Businesses call fat tax a failure on all fronts The Copenhagen Post, Ray Weaver (10/11/12)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a diagram. What happens to equilibrium price and quantity?
  2. According to Danish authorities, consumers didn’t change their consumption habits with the tax. What does this suggest about the PED of these products?
  3. How does the amount of tax revenue generated vary with the price elasticity of demand and supply?
  4. What other policies could be implemented to encourage healthy eating?
  5. Why did this fat tax lead to higher food prices?
  6. Explain the way in which such a tax could adversely affect the Danish economy. Does this justify its removal?
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Debating a possible mansion tax

There has been considerable discussion recently about whether the government should introduce a property tax on high value properties. The government, finding it difficult to reduce the public-sector deficit and yet determined to do so, is looking for additional measures to reduce government expenditure or raise tax revenue.

But would it favour a mansion tax as a means of raising additional revenue?

The imposition of such a tax is favoured by both Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. It is strongly opposed, however, by Conservatives. But just what would such a tax look like and what are the arguments for and against it?

One alternative would be to impose a one-off tax on property valued over a certain amount, such as £2 million. Alternatively it could be levied only for as long as the government is seeking to make substantial inroads into the deficit.

Another would be to add one or more bands to council tax. At present, council tax in England is levied in 8 bands according to the value of a person’s property. The highest band is for property valued over £320,000 in 1991 prices, with the amount of tax due for each band varying from local authority to local authority. (Average UK house prices in 2012 are 135% higher than in 1991.) In Scotland the bands are lower with the top band being for property valued over £212,000 in 1991 prices. In Wales, there is an additional band for property valued over £424,000, but properties are valued in 2003 prices, not 1991 prices.

With low top bands for council tax, people in mansions end up paying the same as people in much more modest property. It would be relatively easy to add additional bands, with the top band applying only to property worth, say, over £1 million or more.

The arguments in favour of a mansion tax are that it is progressive, relatively easy to collect, hard to evade and with minimal disincentive effects. The arguments against are that it would make the tax system ‘too progressive’, would not necessarily be related to an individual’s ability to pay and could have substantial disincentive effects.

The progressiveness of the UK tax system is illustrated in the chart, which looks at the proportion of income paid in direct, indirect and all taxes by quintile groups of households – that is, households grouped into five equal sized groups ranked from lowest to highest gross income. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The following articles look at the debate as it has raged over the past few weeks. Try to unpick the genuine arguments from the political rhetoric!

Articles
Clegg Says U.K. Could Apply Mansion Tax ‘in Five Seconds’ Bloomberg, Robert Hutton (25/9/12)
Two thirds back mansion tax on £1m homes Metro, Tariq Tahir (8/10/12)
Mansion tax would ‘tackle inequality’ This is Tamworth (27/9/12)
Council tax: the easy way to make mansion-dwellers pay Guardian, Simon Jenkins (25/9/12)
Rich must pay fair share in tax BBC Andrew Marr Show, Nick Clegg (23/9/12)
We will get mansion tax on £2 million homes through next budget, promise Lib Dems The Telegraph, Rowena Mason (25/9/12)
Trying to tax the wealthy not worth the price The Scotsman, George Kerevan (31/8/12)
Tax on wealth is true to Tory principles Financial Times, Janan Ganesh (24/9/12)
How would Clegg’s emergency wealth tax work? Guardian, Hilary Osborne (29/8/12)
Labour considers mansion tax on wealthy Financial Times, George Parke (5/9/12)
Conservative conference: Cameron rules out ‘mansion tax’ BBC News (7/10/12)
Don’t make wealth tax a habit Financial Times, Howard Davies (29/8/12)
George Osborne blocks mansion tax, but insists wealthy will pay more The Telegraph, Robert Winnett (8/10/12)
Why George Osborne had to kill the mansion tax The Spectator, Matthew Sinclair (7/10/12)
David Cameron rules out mansion tax and plans further welfare cuts Guardian, Hélène Mulholland (7/10/12)
Viewpoint: Would a wealth tax work? BBC News, Mike Walker (29/8/12)
For all the claims made about wealth taxes, it’s not correct to say the rich are paying their fair share Independent, Jonathan Portes (2/10/12)

Data
House price data links Economics Network
The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2010/2011 ONS (26/6/12) (see especially Tables 2 and 3 and Table 26 for historical data)

Questions

  1. Explain the distinction between direct and indirect taxes, and between progressive and regressive taxes. For what reasons do the poor pay a higher proportion of their income in indirect taxes than the rich?
  2. What forms can a tax on wealth take?
  3. How progressive are taxes in the UK (see the ONS site in the Data section above)?
  4. Assess the arguments in favour of a mansion tax.
  5. Assess the arguments against a mansion tax.
  6. What type of wealth tax would be hardest to evade?
  7. What are the likely income and substitution effects of a wealth tax?
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A taxing pint of beer

Binge drinking is a problem that has seen much attention, especially with regards to minimum price controls. However, in this blog, we consider attention in this sector concerning taxation on beer.

Alcohol is widely considered to be a de-merit good with negative externalities imposing external costs on society. This is one of the reasons why taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages. By increasing production costs to the firms providing these drinks, prices rise and hence the policy aims to discourage consumption.

During the recession, many businesses have seen demand fall and one sector hit particularly hard because of this and very high tax rates has been the local pub community. Duty on beer has increased since 2008 by some 42%. As such, many rural and suburban communities have seen their local watering holes close down and this has led to a campaign by CAMRA to force a debate in Parliament, as a means of protecting ‘one of Britain’s oldest and best loved institutions’. Data suggests that 12 pubs per week are closing down, thus the future of the industry is now under threat. This may also have further damaging effects on local communities, as it may adversely affect the social aspect of communities. Camra’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner said:

‘Whether situated in a small village, city high street, or on the edge of a housing estate, pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.’

According to a study, pubs in Lancashire and the West Midlands have been hardest hit by the pub closures. If pubs don’t pass the tax increase on to consumers in the form of higher prices, then they must bear the burden. If they do pass the tax rises on to consumers then the larger chain firms can increase their market share by selling at a lower price. They are also facing growing pressure from the supermarket industry, which are able to sell cheap alcohol, also contributing to going to the pub becoming an ‘unaffordable activity’. The following articles consider this industry.

Pub closures spark beer tax plea The Press Association (30/4/12)
A dozen pubs close each week Telegraph, James Hall (30/4/12)
Calls for beer tax rethink as 12 pubs shut every week BBC Radio 1, News Beat, Steve Holden (30/4/12)
Pubs in the West Midlands hit hardest by pub closures ITV News (30/4/12)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a product such as beer.
  2. In this market, would the tax be more likely to be borne by the producers or consumers? Explain your answer and illustrate on the previous diagram why this is the case.
  3. Why are supermarkets able to compete local pubs out of the alcohol market? Do you think a minimum price will have any effect?
  4. What is a de-merit good? Illustrate the concept of a negative externality on a diagram.
  5. Explain how a de-merit good causes the market to fail. To what extent does the tax on beer solve the market failure?
  6. Why are there likely to be adverse effects on local communities? Could this have an adverse effect on economic activity in the area?
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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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WPP: When Profits Prevail?

Advertising is a costly venture, but for firms in a highly competitive market it can be essential for success. During the recession, many firms had to make a variety of cut backs and reduced advertising for many was one of the key areas to go.

However, one of the leading advertising companies – WPP – has posted significant profits this year, which are up by some 18.5%, reaching £1.008bn. According to Sir Martin Sorrell, a key factor in this success is that many firms, whilst not looking to increase their market share, have felt the need to continue advertising, simply to maintain their existing market share. This has become especially important in growing markets, as competition has become more and more intense.

This new is not only good for the company in question, but also for the UK economy, as the firm has said that it will be moving its headquarters back from Ireland to the UK. This is assuming that legislation is passed concerning the taxation of profits earned abroad. If this relocation does go ahead, it could mean the creation of many more jobs in the UK and a boost to tax revenues, both of which are crucial for the UK economy. As Sir Martin Sorrell said:

‘I am delighted to say that the last remaining issues I think have been removed subject to legislation being introduced in Parliament. We will be coming back subject to shareholder approval’.

WPP believes growth throughout 2012 will be high, due to events such as the Olympics and the US Presidential elections, together with its strength in emerging economies. At the moment, this all looks like good new for the UK and oh how it’s needed!

WPP profit up ahead of 2012 Olympics boost Reuters (1/3/12)
WPP’s Martin Sorrell says he is likely to move HQ back to London Guardian, Mark Sweney (1/3/12)
Olympics, Election to boost WPP Wall Street Journal, Kathy Gordon (1/3/12)
WPP breaks £1bn profit barrier Guardian, Mark Sweney (1/3/12)
WPP boosts dividend after strong year Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw and Mark Wembridge (1/3/12)
WPP profits reach record in 2011 BBC News (1/3/12)

Questions

  1. What is market share and how can it be calculated?.
  2. What is the purpose of advertising. Using a supply and demand diagram, illustrate the effect the advertising should have. Think about the position and the shape of the curves.
  3. Why is advertising an area that did see cut backs throughout the recession?
  4. Do you think that advertising is more important for firms in growing markets? Explain your answer.
  5. Why did WPP relocate to Ireland and what may bring it back to the UK?
  6. How have WPP’s dividend payments been affected by this latest profit information?
  7. During a recession, competition tends to become more intense. Why is this and what role does advertising play?
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It’s fuelling anger

Petrol prices have been a bone of contention for some time. With household incomes remaining low and the cost of living rising, the fact that average petrol prices have reached their highest level of more than 1.37p per litre on average will undoubtedly put growing pressure on the approaching budget.

There have already been calls for the Chancellor to reduce fuel duty and with this latest data, the pressure will only mount. The problem is, if fuel duty does fall, so will tax revenues and as one of the Coalition’s key objectives has been to cut the budget deficit, this could pose further problems. Even the calls to cut VAT on fuel will also put a dent in the budget deficit.

Although everyone is undoubtedly feeling the effects of these higher prices, the key thing with petrol is its elasticity of demand. Whether the price of petrol was 0.90p or 1.37p per litre, I continue to buy the same amount. Therefore, for me, the price elasticity of demand for petrol is highly inelastic – at least between those prices. After all, if the price increase above say £3 per litre, I might think twice about driving to work!

So what has been driving this increase in prices? Petrol prices are hugely dependent on the cost of oil and on the demand for any product that uses fuel. With growing demand from countries like India and China, as they continue to develop and grow very quickly; the continuing concerns with Iran’s nuclear programme and the political problems in the Middle East, oil prices have been forced up. The future trend in prices will depend on many factors, not least whether or not there is any change in fuel duty in the 2012 budget and whether something like a regulator is introduced to monitor increases in fuel prices. This is definitely an area to pay close attention to in the coming months.

Petrol prices reach record high Independent, Peter Woodman (3/3/12)
Petrol prices hit record high with further rises expected Guardian, Hilary Osborne (2/3/12)
Appeak to regulate petrol prices This is South Wales (3/3/12)
Plea to slash duty as fuel costs soar to record high Scotsman, Alastair Dalton (3/3/12)
Petrol prices hit record high The Telegraph, David Millward (2/3/12)
Diesel prices predicted to reach 150p as petrol hits new record Guardian, Terry Macalister and Hilary Osborne (2/3/12)

Questions

  1. Which are the factors on the demand side that have pushed up the price of oil and hence petrol and diesel?
  2. What are the supply-side factors that are causing the rising price of fuel?
  3. Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the effects you have explained in the first two questions.
  4. In the blog, I mention that my price elasticity of demand is relatively inelastic between 2 given prices. What does this suggest about the shape of my demand curve for petrol? How does this shape affect prices following any change in demand or supply?
  5. Why is petrol a relatively price inelastic product?
  6. There have been calls for the government to cut VAT or reduce fuel duty. What are the arguments for and against these policies?
  7. How effective do you think a petrol price regulator would be?
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A stealthy business

Governments and businesses across the world have been trying to become more environmentally friendly, as everyone becomes more concerned with climate change and emissions. In the UK, incentives had been put in place to encourage large-scale organisations to reduce their consumption of gas and electricity. The Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme began in April 2010, with companies and public-sector orgainisations required to record their energy consumption. Then in April 2011 it was planned that those consuming over 6000 MWh of electricity per year (about £500,000 worth) would be required to purchase ‘allowances’ of £12 for each tonne of carbon dioxide that is emitted by their use of fuel: electricity, gas, coal and other fuels. This would require the organisations working out their ‘carbon footprint’, using guidance from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. In the case of coal and gas, the emissions would be largely from burning the fuel. In the case of electricity it would be largely from generating it.

The government had intended to use the revenue received from the sale of allowances to pay subsidies to those firms which were the most successful in cutting their emissions.

By raising money from the largest emitters via a levy and giving it back as a ‘refund’ to those who cut their usage the most, the government would not have been able to raise any revenue, but it did tackle the core of the problem – reducing emissions. However, following the Spending Review, this scheme will now actually generate revenue for the government. Paragraph 2.108 on page 62 of the Spending Review states the following:

The CRC Energy Efficiency scheme will be simplified to reduce the burden on businesses,
with the first allowance sales for 2011-12 emissions now taking place in 2012 rather than 2011. Revenues from allowance sales totalling £1 billion a year by 2014-15 will be used to support the public finances, including spending on the environment, rather than recycled to participants. Further decisions on allowance sales are a matter for the Budget process.

Over 5000 firms and other organisations will now find that their hard work in cutting usage and being more environmentally friendly will give them much less reward, as the revenue raised from the levy will remain in the Treasury. All that firms will now gain from cutting emissions is a reduction their levy bill. The extra £1bn or more raised each year from the scheme will undoubtedly be beneficial for tackling the budget deficit, but it will no longer provide subsidies to firms which reduce their emissions. Furthermore, PriceWaterhouseCooper estimates that it will cost businesses with an average gas and electricity bill of £1 million an extra £76,000 in the first year and this may increase to an additional cost of £114,000 per year by 2015.

It’s hardly surprising that businesses are angry, especially when this withdrawal of subsidy, which some have dubbed a ‘stealth tax’, was not mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech, but was left to the small print of the Spending Review announcement. The following articles look at this highly controversial plan.

Articles
Spending Review: Large firms ‘face green stealth tax’ BBC News (21/910/10)
Business lose out via £1bn-a-year green ‘stealth tax’ Management Today, Emma Haslett (21/10/10)
Fury over £1bn green stealth tax in spending review Telegraph, Rowena Mason (20/10/10)
Is ‘stealth’ tax a threat to UK economy going green? BBC News, Roger Harrabin (20/10/10)
Green spending review – it could have been a whole lot worse Business Green, James Murray (20/10/10)
Coalition hits big business with stealth carbon tax Business Green, James Murray (20/10/10)
UK government hits big businesses with stealth carbon tax Reuters, James Murray (20/10/10)
UK’s carbon tax bombshell takes business by surprise Reuters, Will Nichols and James Murray (21/10/10)
CRC allowances sting in UK Spending Review The Engineer, M&C Energy Group (22/10/10)

The CRC scheme
CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Department of Energy and Climate Change

Questions

  1. How does a tax affect the supply curve and what would be the impact on the equilibrium price and quantity?
  2. To what extent might this “stealth tax” (i.e. withdrawal of subsidy) adversely affect (a) businesses in the UK; (b) the economy more generally?
  3. Why will firms have to re-look at their cash flow, costs and revenue following this change? How might this affect business strategy?
  4. By taxing firms using more gas and electricity, what problem is the government trying to solve? (Think about market failure.)
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