Tag: income distribution

Now the details of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are known, the comments are coming thick and fast. As we saw in the last news blog, Taking sides in the war of the cuts, economists are divided over whether the cuts will be compensated by a rise in private expenditure or whether overall aggregate demand will fall, driving the economy back into recession. As you will see in the articles below, they are still as divided as ever.

At least we know the details of the cuts. The plan is for an average cut across government departments of some 19 per cent over four years, although the size will vary enormously from department to department. The government is predicting that the effect will be about 490,000 fewer jobs in the public sector. In addition to the cuts, the retirement age is to rise to 66 for both men and women by 2020 and regulated rail fares will rise by 3% above RPI inflation for three years from 2012.

Examine the details of the measures in the articles below and consider what the effects are likely to be, both on the macro economy and on income distribution.

Articles
Spending Review: Osborne wields axe BBC News (20/10/10)
Spending Review: Q&A – what does it mean? BBC News (20/10/10)
Main points from the Comprehensive Spending Review Independent (20/10/10)
Osborne swings the welfare axe Independent, Oliver Wright (20/10/10)
Chancellor spells out austerity gamble Financial Times (20/10/10)
Easier said than done The Economist (20/10/10)
Julian Callow Sees Consolidation in Europe Bloomberg Podcasts, Tom Keene interviews Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital (21/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: Business leaders urge clearer strategy for growth Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (20/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: George Osborne leaves markets unmoved Telegraph (20/10/10)
Spending review: Osborne gambles with the economy Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/10/10)
Larry Elliott on George Osborne’s spending review Guardian video (20/10/10)
Spending review: What the economists think Guardian (20/10/10)
Spending review: The work of a gambler Guardian editorial (20/10/10)
Spending review: economists and other experts respond Guardian, various economists (20/10/10)
Comprehensive spending review: We deserve an explanation. This wasn’t it Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty (20/10/10)
Spending review: the winners and losers Guardian, Sam Jones (20/10/10)
All in it together? BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (20/10/10)
The sack: Lessons for government BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/10/10)
A gamble on the economics Financial Times, Philip Stephens (20/10/10)
Q&A: the devil in the details Financial Times, Chris Giles (20/10/10)
Spending Review: Poorest Take Biggest Hit Sky News, Miranda Richardson (20/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: ‘More cuts could be needed’ Telegraph, Andy Bloxham (21/10/10)
Cuts ‘will push UK close to recession’ BBC Today Programme, Martin Wolf and Ken Rogoff (21/10/10)
Spending review cuts ‘are regressive’ BBC Today Programme, Tim Harford (21/10/10)
Spending review is a full stop but history lesson is vital in economics Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/10)

The Spending Review document
Spending Review 2010 HM Treasury (20/10/10)
Link to HM Treasury Spending Review site

Briefing and analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies
Opening remarks IFS, Carl Emmerson (21/10/10)
Link to briefing presentations (PowerPoint) IFS (21/10/10)

Analysis of fiscal consolidation by the IMF
Will It Hurt? Macroeconomic Effects of Fiscal Consolidation World Economic Outlook, Chapter 3, IMF (Oct 2010)

Questions

  1. What is the distribution of cuts between government departments?
  2. To what extent can it be said that there will be a real increase in health expenditure?
  3. What will be the effect of the cuts and tax increases on the distribution of income?
  4. What will determine whether the effect of the cuts will be to stimulate or dampen economic growth (or even drive the economy back into recession)? Which do you think is most likely and on what do you base your judgement?
  5. Trace through the multiplier effects of the measures.
  6. If the effect of the cuts is to drive the economy back into recession, what should the government’s ‘Plan B’ be?

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that from 2013 child benefit would not be paid to any household where one or both parents had a high enough income to pay tax at the 40% rate. This means that if either parent earns over £43,875, they will receive no child benefit for any of their children. If, however, neither parent pays tax at 40%, then they will continue to receive it for all their children. Thus if both parents each earned, say, £43,870, giving a total household income of £87,740, they would continue to receive child benefit.

Not surprisingly, people have claimed that it is very unfair to penalise households where one person earns just over the threshold and the other does not work or earns very little and not penalise households where both parents earn just below the threshold. So what are the justifications for this change? What are the implications for income distribution? And what are the effects on incentives? Are there any people who would be put off working? The following articles look at these questions.

Articles
How benefit cuts could affect you Guardian, Patrick Collinson and Mark King (5/10/10)
Q&A: Child benefit measures will be messy Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (5/10/10)
Cameron Defends Cut in Child Benefits for Stay-at-Home Mothers Bloomberg Businessweek, Thomas Penny and Kitty Donaldson (5/10/10)
Three million families hit by child benefit axe Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (5/10/10)
George Osborne’s child benefit plans are characterised by unfairness Telegraph letters (5/10/10)
Child benefit: case study Telegraph, Harry Wallop (5/10/10)
Child benefit cuts ‘tough but necessary’ say ministers BBC News (4/10/10)
Child Benefit Changes – Should Parents Take a Pay Cut? Suite101, John Oyston (5/10/10)
No such thing as an easy reform BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (5/10/10)
Child benefit saga: Lessons to be learned BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (6/10/10)

Speech
Higher rate taxpayers to lose child benefits from 2013: extracts from speech BBC News, Nick Robinson (5/10/10)
Our tough but fair approach to welfare Conservative Party Conference Speech, George Osborne (4/10/10)

Data and information
Child Benefit: portal HMRC
Child Benefit rates HMRC
Income Tax, rates and allowances HMRC

Questions

  1. Assess the fairness arguments for not paying child benefit to any household where at least one person pays tax at the 40% rate.
  2. For a family with three children, how much extra would a parent earning £1 below the threshold have to earn to restore their disposable income to the level they started with?
  3. What incentive effects would result from the proposals? How might ‘rational’ parents respond if one parent now stays at home and the other works full time and earns over £43,870, but where both parents have equal earning potential?
  4. What income and substitution effects are there of the proposed changes?
  5. Discuss other ways in which child benefit could be reformed to achieve greater fairness and save the same amount of money.
  6. What are the arguments for and against tapering the reduction in child benefit as parents earn more?

The incoming coalition government in the UK has been spelling out its fiscal policy. It is sticking to the Conservative pledge of cutting £6bn from government spending this fiscal year (6 April 2010 to 5 April 2011). It hopes to make most of these by ‘efficiency savings’ – in other words, providing the same level of service for less money. It has, however, said that it will take advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England as to whether the cuts need to be delayed if the economy weakens substantially.

But the Bank of England is forecasting a continuation of the recovery (see its latest Inflation Report below), even assuming no further quantitative easing beyond the £200bn of assets purchased by the Bank. The Governor, Mervyn King, feels that the economy can indeed bear the proposed £6bn cut in government spending and that this will also send an important signal to the market that the government is committed to reducing the deficit.

The new government has also said that it will honour the Liberal Democrat pledge to raise the personal tax free allowance on income tax to £10,000. It has also backtracked somewhat on the Conservative pledge not to raise national insurance. Only employers will be spared the rise; employees will have to pay it.

So has there been a major change in fiscal policy? Has the focus moved from one of maintaining aggregate demand in order to avoid falling back into recession to one of making a start on tackling the deficit straight away? Or is the change in emphasis more one of presentation than substance? The following webcasts looks at the new fiscal policy emerging from number 11 and at the latest forecasts for growth and inflation.

Webcasts

What kind of medicine is the economy going to be fed? BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (13/5/10)
Policy breakdown for Lib Dem-Conservative coalition BBC News, James Landale (12/5/10)
Savings cuts to ‘hit middle class families’ BBC News, Keith Doyle (15/5/10)
Inflation Report, May 2010 Bank of England (click on Watch Webcast) (12/5/10)

Documents and data
Coalition Agreement published (see here for text of agreement) Conservative Party (11/5/10)
Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations agreements Liberal Democrats (11/5/10)
Inflation Report, May 2010 (portal) Bank of England, see in particular:

Articles
Department by department, what the new Government plans to do Independent (13/5/10)
VAT rise looms as coalition deal adds estimated £10bn to debt Guardian, Katie Allen and Julia Kollewe (13/5/10)
Some initial reaction to the Tory / Lib Dem coalition agreement Institute for Fiscal Studies Press Release, Robert Chote and Mike Brewery (12/5/10)
Tax rises likely under coalition government, says Institute for Fiscal Studies Telegraph, Edmund Conway (13/5/10)
Give and take BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (12/5/10)

Questions

  1. What ground has been given by (a) the Conservatives; (b) the Liberal Democrats in terms of their proposed economic policies (see Looking at the manifestos for details of their proposed policies).
  2. What will be the implications of a £6bn cut in government spending on aggregate demand? What other determinants of aggregate demand need to be taken into account in order to assess the likely growth in GDP over the coming months?
  3. What are the distributional consequences of (a) a rise in the personal income tax allowance to £10,000; (b) a rise in VAT?
  4. Has there been a major change in fiscal policy?

In 2008, the UK government set up a National Equality Panel to investigate inequality. “The Panel was asked to investigate the relationships between the distributions of various kinds of economic outcome on the one hand and people’s characteristics and circumstances on the other.” The panel delivered its report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, in January 2010. It “addresses questions such as how far up or down do people from different backgrounds typically come in the distributions of earnings, income or wealth?”

The aspects of inequality examined include: educational outcomes, employment status, wages and other sources of income (such as benefits) both for the individual and the household, and wealth. “In our main report, we present information on the distributions of these outcomes for the population as a whole. Where possible we indicate how they have changed in the last decade or more, and how the UK compares with other industrialised countries. But our main focus is on the position of different social groups within the distributions of each outcome.”

A major influence on people’s income was the income, wealth and class of their parents since these affected education, peer groups and a whole range of other life chances. This made it virtually impossible to achieve equality of opportunity.

The report also looks at policy implications. These include not just the redistribution of incomes, but also the more fundamental issue of how to create equality of opportunity. “The challenge that our report puts down to all political parties is how do you create a level playing field when there are such large differences between the resources that different people have available to them.”

So what has happened to inequality? What explanations can be offered? And what can be done to lessen inequality? The following articles look at the findings of the report and offer their own judgements and analysis.

Rich-poor divide ‘wider than 40 years ago’ BBC News (27/1/10)
The Big Question: Why has the equality gap widened even through the years of plenty? Independent, Sarah Cassidy (28/1/10)
UK is one of world’s most ‘unequal’ societies Irish Times, Mark Hennessy (28/1/10)
Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest Guardian, Amelia Gentleman and Hélène Mulholland (27/1/10)
No equality in opportunity Guardian, Phillip Blond and John Milbank (27/1/10)
Has the wealth gap really widened? Guardian, Tom Clark (27/1/10)
Inequality in a meritocracy Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell (29/1/10)
Who wants equality if it means equal poverty? (including video) Times Online, Antonia Senior (29/1/10)
A Major miracle on equality Public Finance, Richard Reeves (29/1/10)
UK one of the worlds most unequal societies; report says The Sikh Times (29/1/10)
Only policies, not posturing, will bring down inequality Independent (28/1/10)

The Report
The full 457-page report can be accessed here.
A 44-page summary of the report can be accessed here.
A 6-page executive summary can be accessed here.
Click here for the charts and tables from the report.

Another good source of information on the distribution of income is the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings published by the Office for National Statistics.

Questions

  1. How can we measure inequality?
  2. Outline the findings of the report.
  3. Why is inequality so high in the UK and why has it continued to deepen?
  4. Have tax credits helped to reduce inequality?
  5. To what extent are greater equality and faster economic growth compatible economic objectives? How are incentives relevant to your answer?
  6. What specific policies could be adopted to give greater equality of opportunity? Identify the opportunity costs of such policies.

The New Economic Foundation (NEF) is “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.” It aims “to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environmental and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.” It has just published a study into pay, A Bit Rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions (see link below). This argues that narrow notions of productivity, whilst having some relation to pay, are a poor way of judging the worth of particular jobs to society.

“In this report NEF … takes a new approach to looking at the value of work. We go beyond how much different professions are paid to look at what they contribute to society. We use some of the principles and valuation techniques of Social Return on Investment analysis to quantify the social, environmental and economic value that these roles produce – or in some cases undermine.

Our report tells the story of six different jobs. We have chosen jobs from across the private and public sectors and deliberately chosen ones that illustrate the problem. Three are low paid – a hospital cleaner, a recycling plant worker and a childcare worker. The others are highly paid – a City banker, an advertising executive and a tax accountant. We recognise that our incentives are created by the institutions and systems around us. It is not our intention therefore, to target the individuals that do these jobs but rather to examine the professions themselves.”

So, to what extent do rates of pay reflect the ‘true value’ of what is being created? How could we establish this ‘true value’? Does pay even reflect marginal productivity in the narrow private sense? The report and the articles look at these issues.

A Bit Rich New Economics Foundation (14/12/09), (see also)
Top bankers destroy value, study claims Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘worth more to society than bankers Telegraph, James Hall (14/12/09)
Cleaners ‘worth more to society’ than bankers – study BBC News, Martin Shankleman (14/12/09)
Cleaners worth more to society than bankers, says thinktank Guardian (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘of more value to society than bankers’ Scotsman, Alan Jones (14/12/09)
Bankers and accountants a drain on the state, says think-tank Management Today (14/12/09)
Are cleaners worth more than bankers? BBC World Service (14/12/09)

Questions

  1. What is meant by the marginal productivity theory of wage determination? Does the NEF study undermine this theory? Explain.
  2. Why are elite bankers, tax accountants and advertising executives paid so much more than hospital cleaners, waste recycling workers and childcare workers?
  3. “Until the prices of goods and services reflect the true costs of their production, incentives will be misaligned. This means damaging activities will be relatively cheap and profitable, while positive activities will be discouraged.” Explain this statement and whether you agree with it.
  4. To what extent can the misalignment of pay and social worth be explained by externalities?
  5. What is the basis for arguing that tax accountants and City bankers have negative social worth? Do you agree? Explain.
  6. What would happen if hospital cleaners were give a pay rise and bankers given a pay cut so that cleaners ended up with a higher pay than bankers?
  7. In the light of the NEF study, what policies should the government adopt toward pay inequality?