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)
- What is government borrowing? Who does the government borrow from?
- Analyse the impact of tax cuts on the economy. Think about which groups will be affected the most and in what ways.
- Which components of aggregate demand will be affected by cuts in spending and rising taxes?
- ’Cuts in taxation would boost the economy.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
- What will be the impact of tas cuts on the government’s macroeconomic objectives, given your answer to question 3?
- What are the arguments (a) for cutting the budget deficit now and (b) for cutting the budget deficit later?
Whilst the internet and technological developments provide massive opportunities, they also create problems. For some time now, newspapers have seen declining sales, as more and more information becomes available online. Type something into Google or any other search engine and you will typically find thousands of relevant articles, even if the story has only just broken. As revenue from newspaper sales falls, revenue has to be made somewhere else to continue investment in ‘frontline journalism’. The question is: where will this come from?
The Financial Times and News Corp’s Wall Street Journal charge readers for online access and we can expect this to become more common from May, when the Times and the Sunday Times launch their new websites, where users will be charged for access. Subscription to these online news articles will be £1 per day or £2 for weekly access. Whilst the Executives of the Times admit that they will lose many online readers, they hope that the relatively low price, combined with a differentiated product will be enough of an incentive to keep readers reading.
Critics of this strategy argue that this a high risk strategy, as there is so much information available online. Whilst the BBC does plan to curtail the scope of its website, the Times and Sunday Times will still face competition from them, as well as the Guardian, the Independent, Reuters, etc., all of whom currently do not charge for online access. However, if you value journalism, then surely it’s right that a price should be charged to read it. Only time will tell how successful a strategy this is likely to be and whether we can expect other online news sites to follow their example.
Times and Sunday Times websites to charge from June (including video) BBC News (26/3/10)
Murdoch to launch UK web paywall in June Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (26/3/10)
Times and Sunday Times websites to start charging from June Guardian, Mercedes Bunz (26/3/09)
News Corp to charge for UK Times Online from June Reuters (26/3/10)
Murdoch-owned newspaper charges for content BBC News (14/1/10)
- Why have newspaper sales declined?
- How might estimates of elasticity have been used to make the decision to charge to view online articles?
- ’If people value journalism, they should pay for it.’ What key economic concepts are being considered within that statement?
- Why is charging for access to the Times Online viewed as a high-risk strategy?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy? To what extent do you think it is likely that other newspapers will soon follow suit?
- Which consumers do you think will be most affected by this strategy?
- In what ways might non-pay sites gain from theTimes’ charging policy?
- Would you continue to read articles from the Times linked from this site if you had to pay to access them? If so, why? If not, why not? (We want to know!!)
For many people, internet access is something we take for granted and if you can’t afford to connect, you might be seen to be in relative poverty. Whilst you can afford food, clothes, housing etc, other goods and services are increasingly being seen as necessities. Everyone should be able to afford a mobile phone, a television, the internet. These are all factors that contribute towards a feeling of social inclusion, which is something the government has promoted since its election in 1997.
Although internet access is the norm for most people, in the UK our internet speeds are actually significantly slower than those in other industrialised countries. All this could be about to change, with Labour’s proposal for a 50p monthly tax on households’ landlines to fund super-fast broadband across the country. However, this plan has been condemned by some influential MPs, who argue that the tax is regressive.
“We believe that a 50 pence levy placed on fixed telecommunication lines is an ill-directed charge. It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge.”
More important, they argue, is to make sure that everyone has internet access, rather than that everyone has fast access, which is not needed at the moment. When there is a demand for high-speed access from the masses, the market will provide it. However, the government argues that high-speed access is crucial to our economic growth, as it allows access to huge social, economic and health benefits. On the other hand, could such a tax reduce growth, by limiting technological innovation? The Conservatives have promised that if elected, they will scrap this broadband levy and instead aim to fund high-speed internet access by providing ‘BT’s rivals with regulatory incentives to roll out new telecoms networks’. This highly contentious issue is discussed in the articles below.
The Broadband tax: dead in the water? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (23/2/10)
Broadband tax plan condemned Press Association (23/2/10)
Social tariff users need to be made aware of broadband tax exemption Broadband Expert (17/2/10)
Broadband tax could dissuade technology innovation Broadband (27/1/10)
Tories pledge rise in broadband speed Financial Times, Andrew Parker and Ben Fenton (9/2/10)
Fast broadband: an election issue? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (3/2/10)
- What will be the effect of a tax on landlines? Illustrate this on a diagram and think about who will be affected. What type of tax does it represent: direct, indirect, specific, ad-valorem, etc?
- Is the tax fair? Why is it argued to be regressive?
- How will the Conservative party’s aim to provide regulatory incentives to BT’s rivals allow them to provide high-speed internet access? Is their solution better than Labour’s proposal?
- Why might the provision of high-speed internet access (a) stimulate economic growth and (b) constrain economic growth?
- Use a growth model to illustrate the importance of technological progress in achieving high levels of economic growth.
- How will a tax affect households? Consider the impact on income and consumption and hence on aggregate demand.
Most businesses have suffered over the past year or so. Profits and sales have fallen, as the UK (and global) economy suffered from a recession that’s seen UK interest rates at 0.5%, unemployment rising and public debt at unprecedented levels. Christmas trading always sees a boost in sales and that’s just what’s happened for many businesses. Shoppers have responded to the doom and gloom of the past year by spending and making up for a hard year. Phrases such as “I decided to treat myself” became common on the news as reporters travelled to shopping centres across the UK. However, shops such as M&S and Next have warned that attempts by the government to reduce the public deficit could derail the consumer recovery.
These positive stories, whilst true, are a useful tool to help boost consumer confidence and keep expectations positive for the coming months. However, there are warnings that these figures shouldn’t be taken out of context. The economy is still in trouble and public debt has reached almost 60% of GDP. With cuts in government spending and rises in taxation expected, how much confidence should be taken from these positive signs in the retail sector? Only time will tell.
Online powers Shop Direct sales Financial Times, Esther Bintliff (6/1/10)
Poundland, House of Fraser and Co-op see sales rise BBC News (11/1/10)
Links of London see buoyant festive sales Telegraph, James Hall (5/1/10)
John Lewis reports bumper Christmas trading Retail Week, Jennifer Creevy (5/1/10)
New Look expects to build on strong Christmas London Evening Standard (7/1/10)
Christmas trade booming in City Star News Group, Alex de Vos (7/1/10)
Record trading for Cash Generator Manchester Evening News (7/1/10)
Sainsbury’s hails ‘strong’ Christmas trading BBC News (7/1/10)
Cautious M&S reports strong Christmas trade Times Online, Marcus Leroux and Robert Lindsay (6/1/10)
Asda reports ‘solid’ Christmas trading Guardian (6/1/10)
- Why are expectations important for the future of the British economy? Are the expectations rational or adaptive or a combination of the two?
- Are high Christmas sales really a sign that the economy is recovering? Discuss both sides of the argument. Will high sales now have an adverse effect on future trade in the UK?
- How will expected cuts in government spending affect sales in the retail sector?
- Tax rises are a possibility. How will this affect consumers and sales in the coming year? Think about the circular flow of income.
- If interest rates are increased in the coming months, trace through the likely effects in the goods market.
Since Labour has been in power the gap between rich and poor has remained more or less unchanged – a fact that might be surprising given a Labour government and fiscal policies that have become increasingly redistributive in nature. In fact income distribution in the UK has not changed since 1991 according to Office for National Statistics figures. Economists measure income distribution in various ways, but two of the key indicators are the Gini coefficient and the Lorenz curve. For more information on income distribution and some useful data, you may like to download an income data spreadsheet from the IFS (zip file). If you are interested in where you fit into the income scale, then you may also like to try the Institute for Fiscal Studies interactive income model. Why not try a range of different scenarios to see where different levels of income fit into the overall income scale.
UK income gap ‘same as in 1991’ BBC News Online (16/12/08)
- Define the terms (a) Gini coefficient and (b) Lorenz curve.
- Using diagrams as appropriate, show how the Lorenz curve will change when income distribution becomes (a) more equal and (b) less equal.
- Explain how the value of the Gini coefficient will change as income distribution gets more equal. With reference to the IFS spreadsheet (linked to above) descibe how the Gini coefficient has changed in recent years.
- Discuss reasons why income distibution in the UK has stayed the same since 1991 despite a series of redistributive measures adopted by the Labour government since 1997.