Taxes are a key element in redistributive policies: taxes on the rich can be spent on benefits to the poor. The more progressive the taxes (i.e. the more steeply they rise with rising incomes), the bigger will be the redistributive effect and hence the more equal will post-tax incomes be.
But high and steeply progressive taxes can act as a disincentive to work longer, or to go for promotion or to move to a better paid job. High corporate taxes and income taxes can act as disincentive to inward investment and may encourage a ‘brain drain’ and capital flight with people and capital leaving the country for lower tax regimes abroad.
Raising taxes has two effects. First there is the substitution effect: people may work less and substitute it with leisure – after all, work is now less rewarding. People may also substitute working abroad for working at home. But the second effect works in the opposite direction. This is the income effect. As taxes are raised and people’s take-home pay is thereby reduced, they may feel the need to work longer hours or try harder for promotion in order to make up the lost income and maintain their living standards. Thus the effect of higher taxes is not clear-cut. It is an empirical question of which of the two effects is the stronger.
One important determinant of the effects of different tax rates is their relative position compared with other countries. Another is the international mobility of labour and capital. The greater the mobility, the greater the elasticity of supply with respect to changes in tax rates.
The following report and articles look at relative tax rates between different countries and the effects on output and factor movements
Wide tax gaps among countries, UHY study finds UHY International, Press Release (10/6/11)
Britain’s most talent workers flee to avoid high tax rates The Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (13/6/11)
UK tax rate ‘one of the highest’ Belfast Telegraph (13/6/11)
Tax Rates Around the World – Comparison UHY Worldwide-tax.com
Effects of taxes and benefits on household income National Statistics
(see especially Data: The effects of taxes and benefits on household income, 2009/10)
- Why may relative income tax rates between countries give only a partial picture of the international competitiveness of these countries? What else would need to be taken into account?
- Does making taxes more steeply progressive necessarily act as a disincentive to output? Explain.
- What factors are likely to determine the relative size of the income and substitution effects of tax changes?
- How progressive are income taxes in the UK compared with other countries? Give examples.
- What externalities (positive and negative) might result from steeply progressive income tax rates?
- What determines the international elasticity of supply of labour?
- What is the Laffer curve? How will the shape of the Laffer curve be affected by the international mobility of labour and international tax rates?