Tag: Laffer curve

Cutting the budget deficit is a key government objective, but at the moment it seems to be in conflict with another objective, namely economic growth and thereby avoiding a double-dip recession. In order to raise tax revenue and meet the cries for more equity, the 50% tax rate above £150,000 was imposed, affecting some 310,000 people. However, in a recent letter from some top economists to the Financial Times, they called for the scrapping of the top rate of tax. They argue that it is hindering entrepreneurship and encouraging potential top rate tax payers to leave the UK, thereby hindering the economic situation. George Osborne has asked HMRC to evaluate just how effective the top rate of tax has been at generating government revenue.

In contrast to these calls for scrapping this top rate of tax, some of the richest people in the world have said that they would be happy to pay this rate of tax. In the words of Sir Stuart Rose, the ex-boss of Marks and Spencer:

“How would I explain to my secretary that I would pay less tax on my income, which is palpably bigger than hers, when her tax is not going down.”

Those against scrapping the tax argue that it will be ‘monstrously unfair’ and ‘phenomenally immoral’. This, combined with official figure that suggest by 2015/16 the top rate tax will bring in an extra £3.2bn more revenue than had the tax remained at 40%, certainly adds weight to their argument. In total, over the five year period, it is predicted to bring in an extra £12.6bn.

The policy to increase the tax threshold to £10,000 will meet with the critics’ approval, but less so, if it is accompanied by a scrapping of this top rate tax. Furthermore, the government’s coffers will take a significant beating if both of the above occur!

Another option to replace the 50% tax rate is a higher tax on high value homes – the so-called ‘mansion tax’. Whatever happens with taxation, one thing is clear: the government needs to find a way to generate tax revenue, without putting the economy back into recession. If the 50% tax rate encourages people to leave the UK to avoid the tax or to forego entrepreneurship, it will directly be acting as a disincentive. Fewer jobs will be created due to a lack of entrepreneurship, output may be lower and hence growth will not reach its potential. Crucially, the international competitiveness of the UK economy is being badly affected, as it becomes a less attractive place for investment and talented workers. The following articles consider the 50% tax rate and the controversy surrounding it, despite it only being a temporary policy.

Stuart Rose ‘would pay more tax’ BBC News (9/9/11)
Lawson: ‘dangerous’ and ‘foolish’ to keep 50p tax rate Telegraph, Louisa Peacock (10/9/11)
Rose calls 50p tax rate ‘only fair’ Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby (9/9/11)
Top 50p tax rate damages economy, say economists BBC News (7/9/11)
George Osborne loses nerve on plan to cut 50p top tax rate Independent, Nigel Morris (8/9/11)
Top tax rate will raise £12.6bn more in revenue, official figures reveal Guardian, Polly Curtis (7/9/11)
Laffer curves and the logic of the 50p tax Financial Times, Tim Harford (9/9/11)
Row over ending of 50p tax rate threatens to spark Tory rebellion Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Polly Curtis (7/9/11)
I’d happily pay more tax, says former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose Independent, Andy McSmith (10/9/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main arguments in favour of keeping the 50p tax rate?
  2. What are the main arguments in favour of scrapping the 50p tax rate?
  3. What does the Laffer curve show? Is it relevant in the case of the 50p top rate of tax? What does it suggest about the ability of the tax to generate income?
  4. How does the top rate of tax affect the international competitiveness of the UK economy?
  5. Why is there a trade-off between raising tax revenue and boosting economic growth through the use of the 50p tax rate?
  6. Why is there concern about the highest rate of tax actually causing tax revenue to fall?
  7. What are the equity arguments concerning the scrapping of the 50p tax and raising the tax threshold? Is there an equity argument in favour of the 50p tax rate?

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

Articles
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)

Data
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)

Questions

  1. 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?
  2. Does making taxes more steeply progressive necessarily act as a disincentive to output? Explain.
  3. What factors are likely to determine the relative size of the income and substitution effects of tax changes?
  4. How progressive are income taxes in the UK compared with other countries? Give examples.
  5. What externalities (positive and negative) might result from steeply progressive income tax rates?
  6. What determines the international elasticity of supply of labour?
  7. 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?