If you ask most people whether they like paying tax, the answer would surely be a resounding ‘no’. If asked would you like to pay less tax, most would probably say ‘yes’. Evidence of this can be seen in the behaviour of individuals and of companies, as they aim to reduce their tax bill, through both legal and illegal methods.
Our tax revenues are used for many different things, ranging from the provision of merit goods to the redistribution of income, so for most people they don’t object to paying their way. However, maintaining profitability and increasing disposable income is a key objective for companies and individuals, especially in weak economic times. Some high profile names have received media coverage due to accusations of both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Starbucks, Amazon, Googe and Apple are just some of the big names that have been accused of paying millions of pounds/dollars less in taxation than they should, due to clever (and often legal) methods of avoiding tax.
The problem of tax avoidance has become a bigger issue in recent years with the growth of globalisation. Multinationals have developed to dominate the business world and business/corporation tax rates across the global remain very different. Thus, it is actually relatively easy for companies to reduce their tax burden by locating their headquarters in low tax countries or ensuring that business contracts etc. are signed in these countries. By doing this, any profits are subject to the lower tax rate and are thus such companies are accused of depriving the government of tax revenue. Apple is currently answering questions posed by a US Senate Committee, having been accused of structuring its business to create ‘the holy grail of tax avoidance’.
Many may consider the above and decide that these companies have done little wrong. After all, many schemes aimed at tax avoidance are legal and are often just a clever way of using the system. However, in a business environment dominated by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, the impact of tax avoidance may not just be on the government’s coffers. Indeed John McCain, one of the Committee members asked:
…Couldn’t one draw the conclusion that you and Apple have an unfair advantage over domestic based corporations and companies, in other words, smaller companies in this country that don’t have the same ability that you do to locate in Ireland or other countries overseas?
The concern is that with such ability to avoid huge amounts of taxation, large companies will inevitably compete smaller ones out of the market. Local businesses, without the ability to re-locate to other parts of the world, pay their full tax bills, but multinationals legally (in most cases) manage to avoid paying their own share. With a harsh economic climate continuing globally, these large companies that aim to further increase their profitability through such means as tax avoidance will naturally bear the wrath of smaller businesses and individuals that are struggling to get by. It’s likely that this topic will remain in the media for some time. The following articles consider some of the companies accused of participating in tax avoidance schemes and the consequences of doing so.
Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook defends tax strategy in Senate BBC News (21/5/13)
Senator accuses Apple of ‘highly questionable’ billion-dollar tax avoidance scheme The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (21/5/13)
Apple’s Tim Cook faces tax avoidance questions Sky News (21/5/13)
EU leaders look to end Apple-style tax avoidance schemes Reuters, Luke Baker and Mark John (21/5/13)
Apple Chief Tim Cook defends tax practices and denies avoidance Financial Times, James Politi (21/5/13)
Apple CEO Tim Cook tells Senate: tiny tax bill isn’t our fault, it’s yours Independent, Nikhil Kumar (21/5/13)
Miliband promises action on Google tax avoidance The Telegraph (19/5/13)
Google is cheating British tax payers out of millions…what they are doing is just immoral’: Web giant accused of running ‘scandalous’ tax avoidance scheme by whistleblower Mail Online, Becky Evans (19/5/13)
Multinational CEOs tell David Cameron to rein in tax avoidance rhetoric The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Lawrie Holmes and Rajeev Syal (20/5/13)
Fury at corporate tax avoidance leads to call for a global response The Guardian, Tracy McVeigh (18/5/13)
- What is the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? Is it rational to engage in such schemes?
- What are tax revenues used for?
- Why are multinationals more able to engage in tax avoidance schemes?
- Is the problem of tax avoidance a negative consequence of globalisation?
- How might the actions of large multinationals who are avoiding paying large amounts of tax affect the competitiveness of the global market place?
- Is there justification for a global policy response to combat the issue of tax avoidance?
- What are the costs and benefits to a country of having a low rate of corporation tax?
- How would a more ‘reasonable’ tax on foreign earnings allow the ‘free movement of capital back to the US’?
A weekly expense for most families is filling up their car(s) with petrol, but this activity is becoming increasingly expensive and is putting added pressure on lower and middle income families in particular. For those families on lower incomes, a tank of petrol represents a much larger percentage of their income than it does for a higher income household. Assuming that petrol for a month costs you £70 and your monthly income is £500, as a percentage of your income, a tank of petrol costs you 14%. Whereas, if your income is £900, the percentage falls to 7.7% and with a monthly take-home pay of £2000, the cost of a month’s petrol as a percentage of your income is just 3.5%. This is a stark indication of why those on lower incomes feel the burden of higher petrol prices (and indeed, higher prices for any essential items) more than other families.
The price of petrol will today be debated by MPs, following an e-petition signed by more than 100,000 people and having the support of more than 100 MPs. When in power, the Labour government proposed automatic fuel-tax increases, but these were scrapped by the Coalition. However, in January, the government plans to increase fuel duty by 3p a litre and further increases in prices are expected in August in line with inflation. This could mean that the price of unleaded petrol rises to over 1.40p per litre.
And it’s not just households that are feeling the squeeze. The situation described in the first paragraph is just as relevant to firms. The smaller firms, with lower turnover and profits are feeling the squeeze of higher petrol prices more than their larger counterparts. Any businesses that have to transport goods, whether to customers or from wholesalers to retailers etc, are seeing their costs rise, as a tank of petrol is requiring more and more money. To maintain profit margins, firms must pass these cost increases on to their customers in the form of higher prices. Alternatively, they keep prices as they were and take a hit on profitability. If prices rise, they lose customers and if prices are maintained, profitability suffers, which for some companies, already struggling due to the recession, may not be an option.
Mr. Halfon, the Tory MP whose motion launched the e-petition said that fuel prices were causing ‘immense difficulties’ and the Shadow Treasury Minister Owen Smith has said:
‘With our economic recovery choked off well before the recent eurozone crisis, we need action.’
With inflation at 5.2% (I’m writing an hour or so before new inflation data is released on 15/11/11), higher prices for many goods is putting pressure on households. This is possibly contributing towards sluggish growth, as households have less and less disposable income to spend on other goods, after they have purchased their essential items, such as groceries and petrol. A criticism leveled at oil companies is that they quickly pass on price rises, as the world price of oil increases, but do not pass on cuts in oil prices. The issues raised in the debate and how George Osborne and David Cameron respond, together with inflation data for the coming months, may play a crucial role in determining just how much a tank of petrol will cost in the new year.
MPs to debate motion calling for half in petrol prices BBC News (15/11/11)
Petrol price rise: David Cameron faces Commons revolt after No10 e-petition Guardian, Cherry Wilson (15/11/11)
David Cameron faces backbench rebellion over fuel price hike Telegraph, Rowena Mason (14/11/11)
Petrol prices may be slashed by Rs 2 per litre on November 16 The Economic Times (15/11/11)
Paying the price as fuel costs rise BBC News (15/11/10)
Oil barons the big winners from soaring pump prices, ONS figures reveal Daily Mirror, Graham Hiscott (15/11/11)
Scrap rise in petrol duty: 100 MPs demand Osborne abandon planned 3p increase Mail Online, Ray Massey and Tim Shipman (15/11/11)
- As the price of petrol rises, why do people continue to buy it? What does it suggest about the elasticity of this product?
- Why do higher prices affect lower income families more than higher income families?
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against George Osborne’s planned 3p rise in petrol duty?
- Do you think that higher prices are contributing towards sluggish growth? Why?
- What type of tax is imposed on petrol? Is it equitable? Is it efficient?
- Why can the oil companies pass price rises on to petrol stations, but delay passing on any price reductions? Is there a need for better regulation and more pressure on oil companies to change their behaviour?
In a statement to the House of Commons on 9 February 2011, the Chancellor announced that banks would extend their new lending to SMEs (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) from £179 billion in 2010 to £190 billion in 2011. An important question is the extent to which this initiative, which forms part of a series of initiatives in conjunction with the banking sector known as Project Merlin, will impact on economic activity.
Let’s begin by thinking about the role that credit plays in an economy. Firstly, it serves a short-term role by enabling individuals and firms to ‘bridge the gap’ between their income and their spending. Secondly, it can, depending on the size and terms of the credit, help to fund longer-term investments. In the case of firms, for instance, it can help to fund capital projects such as an expansion of premises or the installation of new equipment or production processes.
The extension of credit is the main source of growth in the money supply. If the credit which is extended by financial institutions is spent it increases economic activity. The size of the increase in economic activity will depend on how many times the credit is passed on from one firm or individual to the next. In other words, it depends on the velocity of circulation of money – often referred to simply as V. If the initial credit funds a series of purchases and the recipients of these monies, i.e. those from whom the purchases are made, then use their increased deposits to fund purchases themselves, the expansion could be sizeable.
There is every indication that the additional credit for SMEs will be welcome and it seems reasonable to assume that this will positively impact on spending. But, by how much is not entirely clear. This is what fascinates me about macroeconomics, but, perhaps understandably, may well frustrate others! Once the payments for the purchases made using the newly available credit become new deposits, how will these recipients respond? Will other credit-constrained firms use this liquidity to engage in purchases themselves? But, what if these recipients use the monies to increase or rebuild their own financial wealth? In this last scenario – a pessimistic scenario – the velocity of circulation will increase relatively little and economic activity little too.
The corporate sector, of course, does not exist in isolation of other sectors of the economy and, in particular, of the household sector. As some of the income from the expanded credit flows to them in the form of factor payments (i.e. wages and profits) – though by how much is itself debtable – how will they respond? Again will credit-constrained households look to spend? Alternatively, will they hold on to these liquid balances perhaps using them as buffer-stock savings? This is not an unrealistic possibility given the leverage of households and the need to rebuild wealth, especially so in times of incredible economic uncertainty? But, who knows!
So while Merlin may have waved his wand, the full extent of its impact, though probably positive, is far from clear. Time will tell. Isn’t macroeconomics wonderful!
HM Treasury Press Release
Government welcomes banks’ statement on lending by 15% more to SMEs, and on pay and support for regional growth, HM Treasury, 9 February 2011
Statement to the House of Commons by the Chancellor
Statement on banking by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 9 February 2011
Banks sign lending and bonus deal BBC News (9/2/11)
Banks agree Project Merlin lending and bonus deal BBC News (9/2/11)
Osborne’s plans arrive too late for the economy Independent, Sean O’Grady (11/2/11)
Project Merlin ‘could weaken UK banks’ Telegraph, Harry Wilson (11/2/11)
Nothing wizard about Project Merlin Guardian UK, Nils Pratley (7/2/11)
Softball: Britain’s banks make peace with the government – for now The Economist (10/2/11)
Smaller firms insist banks must change their attitude The Herald (11/2/11)
- Detail the various roles that financial institutions play in a modern-day economy.
- Do the activities of banks carry with them any risks? How might such risks be reduced?
- What is meant by the velocity of circulation or the velocity of money?
- What factors do you think could affect the velocity of money?
- How does credit creation affect the growth of the money supply?
- What do you understand by individuals or firms being credit-constrained?
- What factors are likely to affect how credit-constrained an individual household is?
- What do you think might be meant by buffer-stock saving? What might affect the size of the buffer-stock held by a household?
‘eBay has declared that Britain’s small businesses have “come of age” online, after reporting that the number of its traders who are turning over £1m a year had nearly doubled over the last 12 months.’
So begins the linked article below from the Guardian. Unlike other small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), many of which did not survive the recession, the number of successful online SMEs is increasing and their survival rates are generally high. According to eBay, some 25,000 people have set up business on its site since the recession and it is predicted that 127 will have a turnover of over £1 million in 2010 (up from 66 in 2009).
So what is it about the online environment that helps small business to develop and thrive? Does going down the e-commerce route avoid many of the pitfalls of traditional business models? And does it have any specific pitfalls of its own? Read the articles below and then attempt the questions that follow.
eBay doubles number of traders with turnover above £1m Guardian, Graeme Wearden (21/8/10)
Why e-commerce IPOs will soon be the smarter buy VentureBeat, Owen Thomas (18/8/10)
Small businesses prosper in eBay’s millionaires’ club InternetRetailing, Chloe Rigby (21/8/10)
Ecommerce technology is retail investment priority: report InternetRetailing, Chloe Rigby (13/8/10)
Move into ecommerce could transform the Scottish economy Sunday Herald, Colin Donald (22/8/10)
Small businesses ‘tend to be a risk’ to lenders BBC Today Programme (23/8/10)
- What advantages does e-commerce have for SMEs: (a) in the startup phase; (b) over the long term?
- What are meant by ‘network economies’? Does eBay offer such economies to SMEs?
- Follow the links in the above articles to study the experience of two specific online SMEs and identify the strengths and weaknesses of their business strategies.
- What considerations might an SME take into account that is currently trading on eBay or Amazon in deciding whether to set up its own website and trade directly from that?
- Why may a move into e-commerce prove particularly beneficial to the Scottish economy? Would this apply to all online SMEs or only certain types?