The thylacine in the headline is the long sought and now extinct, budget surplus. My latest in Inside Story.
. Instead, it’s a flight of fancy. That’s the tile of my latest piece in The Conversation. Read there, comment here.
I spend quite a bit of time (more than I should) engaged in Twitter debates with advocates of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Some are generally sensible, while others are convinced they have learned a deep secret which enables us to have whatever we want without paying for it. Unfortunately, the sensible ones (Meaningful Monetary Theory) don’t do the hard work of correcting the others (Magical Monetary Theory)
A striking feature of #MMT discussion is that it starts from a presumption of failure. Always supposed to be lots of unemployed resources that can be mobilised by fiscal policy .
When MMT advocates (or anyone else) start suggesting rationing and forced saving are preferable/sensible alternatives to taxation, I don’t think it’s unfair to call them anti-tax. These are really bad ideas, and should be repudiated.
Feel free to add your thoughts
In discussions about Universal Basic Income, lots of people are attracted by the idea of making things as simple as possible. Sadly, that doesn’t work well once you take a closer look.
The simplest UBI would pay every Australian an amount equal to the single age pension, which is just above the poverty line. That’s $20000/yr per person or $500 billion for a population of 25 million, about equal to total Federal government expenditure. That would replace about $180 billion in existing social welfare spending. That leaves $320 billion, approximately equal to total revenue from personal and income taxes.
To fill the gap, we would need either to double income tax revenue, scrap all other public spending, or some mixture of the two. Assuming that’s not feasible, we need to start complicating things. The most obvious step is to treat children differently, for example by giving them half the benefits of adults. But a fixed payment per child isn’t going to be work well, bearing in mind that it would replace existing forms of support which are based on assessments of need.
The key problem is that while tax is mostly calculated on an individual basis, welfare payments are made to households. To get things right, we need to accept that a complex world doesn’t allow for simple solutions.
Late last year, along with Emma Dawson, John Hewson and Angela Jackson, I took part in a discussion for the ABC’s Big Ideas program, hosted by Paul Barclay. It went to air recently. Here’s a link to the podcast
Unfortunately, I don’t have the time/ patience to listen to audio. I also don’t like the sound of my voice on radio – this is true for many people I think. It would be great to have a program that took an audio file and generated text output. A very quick search mostly turned up paid transcription services. Does anyone have any experience with this.
fn1. Is a recording of a radio program a podcast? Can anyone clarify this.
This post is about a point which has come up here and there in the discussion about Universal Basic Income, but which I’ve never worked through properly.
A preliminary observation is that it’s necessary to consider tax and welfare together as an integrated system. What matters most is the effective marginal tax rates (the sum of marginal income tax and benefit reduction rates).
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Then, starting with the current Australian tax-welfare system, and considering possible paths towards UBI, the key problem is that the tax system is organised (mostly) on an individual basis while the welfare system is organised (almost entirely) on a household or family basis.
Mitchell, Wray and Watts Macroeconomics p 323, give a the correct version of the #MMT position on budget aggregates .
Taxes create real resource space in which the government can fulfil its socio-economic mandate. Taxes reduce the non-government sector’s purchasing power and hence its ability to command real resources for the government to command with its spending.
Take a situation where the national government is spending around 30 per cent of GDP, while its tax revenue is somewhat less, say 27 per cent. The net injection of spending coming from the national government is thus about 3 per cent of GDP. If we eliminated taxes (and held all else constant) the net injection rises towards 30 per cent of GDP. That is a huge increase in aggregate demand and could cause inflation.
(I’d say would rather than could, but otherwise spot-on)
Ideally it is best if tax revenue moves countercyclically, increasing in an expansion and declining in a recession.
(This exactly matches Keynes’ position “the boom, not the slump is the time for austerity at the Treasury”)
3 per cent average deficit over the cycle is consistent with debt averaging 60 per cent, nominal growth g and nominal bond rate r averaging 5 per cent. In this case, primary deficit is zero on average.
But if r<g (desirable), can run a primary deficit as well as a total deficit.
I was asked by a journalist about the long-term fiscal effects of the government response to the crisis. Here’s what I said
In simple accounting terms the cost of the intervention so far can mostly be offset simply by cancelling the Stage 3 tax cuts legislated in advance for 2024-25 (this also happened when the Keating Labor government legislated for future tax cuts in the 1990s). These are projected to cost $95 billion over the five years to 2029-30
so the saving would easily offset the crisis intervention over 10 years.
That’s assuming that the crisis ends quickly and everything returns to the way it was before. I think we will end up with a substantially larger role for government, and therefore a permanent increase in the public sector share of national income, which means higher taxes.
Looking for a different story in the business pages of The Guardian, I happened across a headline stating The men who plundered Europe’: bankers on trial for defrauding €447m. That attracted my attention, but the standfirst, in smaller print, was even more startling
Martin Shields and Nick Diable are accused of tax fraud in ‘cum-ex’ scandal worth €60bn that exposes City’s pursuit of profit
For those without a calculator handy, that’s about $A100 billion.
I think of myself as someone who pays attention to the news, but I had missed this entirely. Google reveals essentially no coverage in the main English language media. There’s a short but helpful Wikipedia article and that’s about it. The scandal has been described as the ‘crime of the century’, but it’s just one of many multi-billion dollar heists, with the GFC towering abover them all.
It remains to be seen how the trial will turn out, but it’s already clear that, as usual, the banks have got away with it. The bank most closely involved in the scam, HypoVereinsBank in German has set aside €200 million euros to cover its potential liability. That’s less than 1 per cent of the tax avoided or evaded (the lawyers will be fighting out which, for some time, but the effect on ordinary citizens is the same).
The crucial point here isn’t the failure of the law to punish wrongdoing.
What matters is that crooked deals of this scale suffice for a complete explanation of the growth of the global financial sector since the 1970s. The point of the financial sector is not to allocate capital more efficiently, but to undermine the regulatory and tax systems that are supposed to make the economy work properly. Unsurprisingly the huge financial boom has been accompanied by miserable productivity growth, repeated business collapses and massive growth in inequality.
The only way to fix the problem is to shrink the financial sector to a tiny fraction of its current size, and tightly regulate what remains. The rational route to achieve this would start with the kinds of reforms being proposed by Elizabeth Warren. But we may be stuck with a messier path, in which courts tire of giving slaps on the wrist to recidivist banks and start shutting them down.Read More »
Eryk Bagshaw, recently appointed economics correspondent for Fairfax, is certainly aware of that. In fact, mentions it right near the end of this scare story about the effects of Labor’s rejection of the second-stage of the Morrison government’s legislated tax cuts. But that didn’t stop the Fairfax subeditor running his article under the headline “Average full-time workers to be $1000 a year worse off under Labor”
To spell it out, the trick here is that Bagshaw is looking at workers who earn between $90,000 [the arithmetic mean of wages for full time workers} and $120,000. He estimates that there are about 1.6 million such workers. That’s a bit over 10 per cent of the workforce (about 13 million people). As he admits, the median full time wage is well below this, and the median wage for all workers lower again. Once pensioners and welfare recipients are taken into account, it’s evident that Bagshaw’s “average workers” are well towards the top end of the income distribution.
This is amusing since I had a previous run-in with Bagshaw over this very issue of headlines. On that occasion, Bagshaw was scathing about a sloppily written ACTU press release, which ended up with a totally inaccurate headline. I don’t think a defence of innocent error is available here. Bagshaw’s story is written in a way that would lead any casual reader to make the same inference as the subeditor. Moreover, there’s no obvious reason why workers receiving between $90K and $120K should be of more interest than any decile of the workforce. Certainly they aren’t average in any meaningful sense. So, without the misleading phrasing, the story would probably have been spiked.
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