Speaking in Auckland- After Reform: What comes next

I’ll be speaking to the Aucklalnd Fabian Society on Thursday 16 Feb (I already spoke on Wellington but didn’t around to posting Details here.

Since the 1980s, economic policy has been dominated by a policy agenda referred to by its proponents as “microeconomic reform” or simply “reform”, based on the ideas of free trade, privatisation and reductions in the scale and scope of government activity. This agenda has exhausted its political support and run out of ideas. It offers no answers to the policy challenges of the 21st century, including growing inequality, financial fragility and the demands of the information economy. This presentation will address the question: What comes next?

Easytax redux redux

I got a brief run in the Murdoch press regarding Pauline Hanson’s revived proposal for a 2 per cent tax on all transactions (floated 20 years ago as “Easytax“). I was reported as follows: “University of Queensland school of economics professor John Quiggin said a 2 per cent tax would destroy small business and see a collapse in government ­revenue.” and the story was headlined “One Nation policy would ‘collapse the economy’” The headline is an exaggeration, but the quoted passage gets my opinion right.

Easytax is an example of a “cascade” tax, common in Europe a century or so ago. The point is that the tax rate is applied to the whole value of each transaction along the chain from primary producer to consumer. For a big firm, like Woolworths, the answer is simple: integrate backwards along the chain by taking over your suppliers. Then you pay the tax only once at 2 per cent. Small businesses, who can’t do this, end up paying the tax themselves, on goods that have already been taxed many times. So, they go out of business, and the total value of transactions falls far below the level used in the original calculation that a 2 per cent tax would be sufficient. Hence, government revenue collapses.

It was precisely because this process was happening that the French (the innovators in this field) dumped the cascade tax in favor of a value-added tax (VAT), the same model used in the GST. They were followed by the rest of the EU and then most of the world, except the US, which still relies on retail sales tax (levied only once, but still messy and narrowly-based).

The story also says “A spokesman for Senator Hanson said she had only advocated investigating the policy.” But the fact that such a nonsense idea is still part of One Nation thinking gives the lie to the suggestion of Hanson’s coalition partners in the LNP that this iteration of One Nation is different from the last. It’s just as racist and ignorant as ever. It’s not Hanson that has changed, but the LNP which is now indistinguishable from One Nation.

Why we should put ‘basic’ before ‘universal’ in the pursuit of income equality

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian. There are two key points

First, in terms of effective tax rates and tax paid, any means-tested Guaranteed Minimum Income can be replicated by a non-tested Universal Basic Income, and vice versa

Second, for a number of reasons, it would be better to begin by expanding access to an adequate Basic income (in Australia, the Age Pension is an obvious benchmark) rather than starting with a small universal payment and then increasing it to a level sufficient to live on.

Trumpism in Australia (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, not entirely satisfied with it, but on the rare occasion of Australia making the front pages of US papers I thought I should post it on Crooked Timber ready or not. It’s for an international, largely US audience, but readers here might be interested. I posted it just before the apparent confirmation that Bernardi will Bolt.

After the cataclysm of Trump’s election, quite a few US-based friends asked me about moving to Australia. I had, as they say, good news and bad news. First, the bad news. Over the last few years, Australia has had no less than four Trumpist political parties, two of which currently form the government. We may yet get a fifth. The goods news is that, in most respects, they have been surprisingly ineffectual. That’s, partly because of constraints in our political system and partly because of the inherent limits of Trumpist politics.

Read More »