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Polity: What tax would Warren Buffet pay in New Zealand?

Written By: - Date published: 1:58 pm, June 26th, 2014 - 14 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags: , , ,

polity_square_for_lynnReposted from Polity

I show that a large-scale equities investor in New Zealand can pay less than 10% in income tax.

Some commentary on my post yesterday about tax rates suggested that, while New Zealand has relatively low headline tax rates for top earners, the various exemptions that people can claim in other countries mean we actually tax top earners more heavily. The famous example cited was Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor who has access to enough tax exemptions that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

I think this critique is wrong for two reasons, one very simple and the other a bit more involved.

Wage earners

First, there a good percentage of top earners in all countries earn most of their money through wages. Top public servants, Ministers, senior staff in big corporates, and so on. For those people, the headline rates really are what we should look at, because most of the exemptions overseas do not apply to wage income.

Earners from capital

Second, and more involved, what kind of tax rate would a person who does a lot of investing pay in New Zealand? And how does that compare to Warren Buffet’s tax rate in the US?

The key point is that capital gains are currently not taxed at all in New Zealand. Unless, that is, the IRD thinks you purchased your assets with the intention of reselling them for profit. In practice, this mind-reading clause is not often used by the IRD, which means the super rich can mostly make capital gain returns on housing1, shares, and the like without paying any tax at all.

But investors in equities will often also receive some dividends, which are taxable. So how does it all shake out?

Consider a very rich person who has $10 million in assets. If they invest that in the share market, their capital growth rate is likely to be around 5% in an average year, which is $500,000. They may choose to take that gain as cash by selling some shares, or keep it in shares for later use. For these purposes it does not matter. Whenever they realize these gains, it will be tax free, whether it is $500,000 every year, or nothing for three years then $2,000,000 in year four.

They will also likely collect dividends that are worth a bit less, somewhere around 2.5% of their portfolio a year based on long term average payout rates. That would be $250,000 in income in our example, and that money can be taxed.

Under New Zealand tax rates, the total tax on that dividend income is $73,420, or 29.4% of the dividends2But as a percentage of the total income (capital gains plus dividends), that $73,420 plummets to just 9.8%.

And there you have it. A Warren Buffet-style character in New Zealand would likely pay less than 10% in tax. Even in the USA Warren Buffet pays 17.4% in federal income tax.

That is the kind of absolute outrage you invite when you do not have a capital gains tax.

  1. Unless they are a professional property developer, which most are not
  2. This estimate uses ordinary income tax rates, because the company tax paid on the pre-dividend corporate profit can be offset against personal tax liability using imputation credits. So in technical terms, the investor would be voted $250,000 in pre-tax dividends, and some of the tax taken out would be company tax, the rest personal income tax, leaving the investor with $250,000 – $73,420 = $176,580 in the bank.

14 comments on “Polity: What tax would Warren Buffet pay in New Zealand?”

  1. ianmac 1

    No wonder English/Joyce are so upset about the possibility of a CGTax. The silly thing is those very rich like Mr Key would probably not even notice if they had to pay CGT. Someone Labour NZF Internet Party please persue the CGT.

  2. Ennui 2

    I think that capital gains on shares is NOT the real issue here. Lets face it, we can impose it on shares and company related property quite easily BUT remember it would only become payable on sale of the share or property. The problem there is that the owner may just hold so no revenue or tax.

    The real question is how best to tax capital? Some parameters around that might be:
    1. Defining the productiveness of the capital we tax.
    2. Prevention of rentier attitudes to capital such as capital just appreciating at the cost of somebody else (interest, market price appreciation etc) whilst not “paying” for itself with production or something socially useful.
    3. Designing tax that prevents aggregation of capital.

    • In Vino 2.1

      “BUT remember it would only become payable on sale of the share or property. The problem there is that the owner may just hold so no revenue or tax.”

      This is a crock of an argument. If everyone holds there are no sellers and the market dies. If some hold, the price possibly rises, and the sellers can afford the CGT, as they could have all along. If only a few hold, minimal effect anyway.

      I am sure that the glorious invisible hand of the market can cope with CGT here, just as it already has almost everywhere else in the world.

      In the ideal world of true justice there would be NO income tax: what you work for would be yours. Social services would be adequately paid for through CGT and Transaction Tax – a much more socially equitable system. The aggregation of capital would still work, and fund society much more fairly. Only the exceptionally greedy would feel aggrieved.

      • Ennui 2.1.1

        In Vino, I don’t think it is a crock of an argument or I would not have posited it. It is an observation based upon how long individuals and institutions hold onto their “capital” in the form of shares, stocks, property etc. Take IBM shares for example, the vast majority never get traded, they get held onto for decades. My contention is that this may be too long to make the tax effective, and if capital gains are applied it might send a signal of “hang on”.

        The comment you make about markets dying, we are merely talking the well known bull and bear phenomenon. Some markets go into hibernation, others euphoria. My favourite hibernating share was Poseidon!

        I like your ideal of no income tax, my fear is that without strong counters to capital such as compulsory unionism that those wages will just get pushed down to the pre tax level, and capital take the surplus.

    • DH 2.2

      “The real question is how best to tax capital? ”

      I think yr points have some merit, in particular defining productiveness of capital

      I can think of at least two fairly straighforward means of taxing capital gains on property that don’t require waiting for the property to be sold.

      The first is easy, link it to council rating valuations. If the value goes up, time for a CGT bill

      The second is a bit more cunning. It’s a fundamental truth of investing that an increase in the yield is an increase in the asset value (all other variables remaining equal). The yield on investment properties is the rent so the property investors can be taxed for capital gains whenever they put their rents up.

      Either would be dead easy to implement. The rent one would be a fairer system, the investor has a choice there.

      • Ennui 2.2.1

        I have always struggled with rental property taxes. I dont see any reason why an individuals PAYE can be set off against costs from renting out a property. For example I buy a property and take an income from it, the income becomes taxable. This gets added to my PAYE but I can then deduct costs like depreciation and interest. Its a real scam. ( I have a feeling the IRD changed the rules to prevent capital gains on this tax relief, not sure).

        I like the ideas around how to tax property, it may drive dollars away from real estate. But where would they go? The money fled to hard assets when the return on capital elsewhere diminished and looked risky.

  3. vto 3

    That is a well written post which describes this phenomenon clearly.

    It is indeed an outrage that people who make money by capital income (gain) do not pay tax…….
    ….while those who make money by wage and salary income do pay tax.

    It is an outrage.

    I have noticed that this thought is catching on, seemingly big-time. The notion that only certain forms of money-making should be taxed and others not is a distortion of the highest form and discriminates to an extreme extent between people and their activities in the world.

    The right wing have no true answer to this, as exhibited by Joyce’s fluster and bluster today.

    Push it hard and relate it to the wage and salary earners …. 2c

  4. dimebag russell 4

    Warren Buffer is to all and intents an honest man.
    His books are informative and interesting.
    He says he wouldnt last five minutes if he was parachuted into Afghanistan.
    In other words his fortune is a result of circumstance.
    Not so with the creepy gang of tories running the country at the moment.
    They think they are supermen and they did it all themselves but they are really little money grabbers who need money to demonstrate to the world that they are superior type people.
    Nah.
    They just a horde of little wimps hiding behind commercial law and accountants to grab everything they can.
    they are like malignant evil spirits uglifying and destroying all the beauty in the world.

  5. xtasy 5

    BUFF IT, BUFFET, WE HAVE YOU FOR A FUCKING BUFFET, SOON THAT IS YOU DAMNED CLASS TRAITOR, SUCK ON THIS TRAITOR:

    EL CHE, VIVA, VIVA EL CHE!!!

    • Richard McGrath 5.1

      I hope you’re not serious. Ernesto Guevara was a psychopathic killer, not averse to shooting children.
      Some quotes from your hero:

      “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the The Wall!” The Wall is a reference to the wall where Che’s enemies stood before his firing squads.

      Che wanted the result of the Cuban missile crisis to be an atomic war. “What we affirm is that we must proceed along the path of liberation even if this costs millions of atomic victims.”

      “In fact, if Christ himself stood in my way, I, like Nietzsche, would not hesitate to squish him like a worm.”

      “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary … These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution!”

      “Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!”

      What a lovely misunderstood man he was.

      • McFlock 5.1.1

        Could have been worse.
        He could have been a libertarian.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1.1

          Surely any self respecting Libertarian would regard Guevara as:

          “A wonderful, free, light consciousness” devoid of “the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.”

  6. Richard McGrath 6

    I think IRD would take a different view on the capital gain from investing $10m. They might just regard the $500,000 per annum or $2m lump sum as that person’s primary income – and would tax it, as well as any dividends.

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    The National Party presents itself as a great manager of the economy, but if the economy is only working for some we really need to question that assertion. Alongside the perpetually elusive surplus, the levels of risk in our economy are… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    4 days ago
  • An economy that is just working for some is an economy that is not working
    The National Party presents itself as a great manager of the economy, but if the economy is only working for some we really need to question that assertion. Alongside the perpetually elusive surplus, the levels of risk in our economy are… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    4 days ago
  • House prices to a crack $1 million in 17 months
    The average Auckland home is on track to cost $1 million in 17 months’ time if nothing substantial is done to rein in soaring price rises, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “Auckland’s house prices have skyrocketed 63 per cent… ...
    4 days ago
  • Vital support services can’t be left in lurch
    The National Government has big questions to answer about how a provider of services to thousands of vulnerable New Zealanders is set to fold, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. Relationships Aotearoa which provides support and counselling to families, individuals… ...
    5 days ago
  • Treasury and IRD on a capital gains tax
    Both the Treasury and IRD have been advising the National Government on the benefits of a capital gains tax. Documents released to the Green Party under an Official Information Act request show that John Key has been selective with the… ...
    GreensBy Russel Norman MP
    5 days ago
  • Charity legislation needs review
    It is unacceptable that the big corporate based charities claim  millions in annual income tax exemptions, while small community based and operated non-profit organisations  struggle to gain official charity status, Labour’s acting spokesperson for the Voluntary and Community Sector Louisa… ...
    5 days ago
  • John’s panic-Key response to housing crisis
    John Key needs to tell New Zealanders what caused his sudden change of heart that led to the Government’s scrambled and last-minute housing measures, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “The Prime Minister’s sudden rush of blood to his head followed… ...
    5 days ago
  • Keep our Assets Christchurch Campaign: An update
    I recently presented my submission to keep Christchurch Council assets at the Christchurch City Council’s public hearings on its 10 year plan on 13 May. The hearings are live-streamed and recorded so you can watch them on www.ccc.govt.nz. The Council’s… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    5 days ago
  • John Key finally admits there’s a housing crisis
    John Key’s weak measures to rein in the astronomical profits property speculators are making are an admission – finally – that there is a housing crisis, Labour Leader Andrew Little says. “But yet again National is tinkering with the housing… ...
    6 days ago
  • Government stifles voices in CYFs review
    The Government’s exclusion of the Māori Women’s Welfare League in a panel on the future of CYFs is a cynical ploy to stifle views, says Labour’s Māori Development Spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta. “It's unbelievable that a significant review on the future… ...
    1 week ago
  • Speech to the Otago Chamber of Commerce
    Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. It’s a pleasure as always to be back in the town that raised me. Growing up in St Kilda meant that there was one thing that was a big… ...
    1 week ago
  • Key can’t just be Prime Minister for Parnell
    John Key must show New Zealanders in next week’s Budget that he is more than the Prime Minister for Parnell, and is also the Prime Minister for Pine Hill, Putararu and Palmerston North, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. In… ...
    1 week ago
  • Stop the conversions
    This week, some Waikato locals took me and intrepid photographer Amanda Rogers on a tour of some  lakes and waterways in their region, and up to the massive dairy conversions in the upper catchment of the Waikato River. It… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty MP
    1 week ago
  • More regional jobs go in Corrections reshape
    News that 194 Corrections staff are to lose their jobs will have ramifications not only for them and their families but for the wider community, Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis says. Prison units at Waikeria, Tongariro and Rimutaka face closure… ...
    1 week ago
  • Government’s climate meetings off to a bumpy start
    On Wednesday, I attended a hui and an evening meeting that the Government had organised in Nelson as part of its climate change consultation tour, to support the Nelson community telling the Government to take meaningful action on climate change.… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    1 week ago
  • Taxpayers the only ones left feeling blue
    Ministry of Social Development bosses could have saved themselves thousands of dollars in consultants’ fees by providing staff with rose-tinted spectacles, Labour’s State Services spokesperson Kris Faafoi says. A report out today reveals the Ministry is spending over half a… ...
    1 week ago
  • Why are the regions still facing restrictions?
    Labour's Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford is questioning why the regions should continue to be saddled with LVR lending restrictions announced by the Reserve Bank today. “Labour has been calling for the regions to be exempted from LVRs for the best… ...
    1 week ago
  • The high costs of weak environmental regulation
    Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is described on the Department of Conservation website as “Canterbury’s largest and New Zealand’s fifth largest [lake], and an internationally important wildlife area.” But the lake is also polluted by nutrients leaching from farms in the catchment.… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    1 week ago
  • Submissions to Wellington City Council on their Gambling Venues Policy
    Every three years Councils across the country are required to check that their gambling venue policies are still fit for purpose and they can choose to consult on their policy if they are thinking of making changes. Councils don’t have… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    1 week ago
  • Reserve Bank action shows Govt out of touch and out of ideas
    The Reserve Bank’s unprecedented measures today show it understands the serious risks of the overheating housing market – in complete contrast to John Key’s refusal to acknowledge the crisis, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “The Bank is right to… ...
    1 week ago
  • Send us your snaps: 25 Years of the Green Party
    This year we've hit a milestone. We're turning 25.To help celebrate a quarter of a century, please send us your photos from the last 25 years of the Green Party Aotearoa New Zealand! Note: Photos must be jpg, gif or… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • 25 Years of the Green Party
    This year the Green Party sends 25. To help us celebrate a quarter of a century please send us you photos of 25 years of the Green Party!Photos must be jpg,gif or png and smaller than 2MB. If you are… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Bay growth plan too little too late
    Today’s Bay of Plenty growth study from MBIE is another example of Government spin - lots of talk but little action, says Labour’s Regional Development spokesperson David Cunliffe.  “This is a region that desperately needs to develop the downstream processing… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Government bows to ACC pressure
     The Government has finally buckled to pressure from Labour and the New Zealand public in making a half billion dollar cut to ACC levies, but the full benefits are two years away,” says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.  “$500 million over… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • False figures cloud Auckland transport facts
    The Prime Minister should apologise and issue a correction after both he and Transport Minister Simon Bridges have been caught out misrepresenting facts on Auckland’s transport spending, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. "Both John Key and Simon Bridges have… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Govt books confirm National can’t post surplus
    The last publication of the Government’s books before the budget shows National will break its promise of seven years and two election campaigns and fail to get the books in order, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The Government is… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • US state joins NZ with GE food labelling
    New Zealand has a similar law making the labelling of many GE foods compulsory, but the Government seems to let it slide.  Because the government has not monitored or enforced our GE food labelling laws since 2003, it seems the… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour Pays Tribute to Erima Henare
    “E ua e te ua tata rahi ana, Ko te hua i te kamo taheke i runga raa. No reira e te rangatira Erima takoto mai I roto I te ringa o Ihowa o nga Mano e moe e.” ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour Pays Tribute to Erima Henare
    “E ua e te ua tata rahi ana, Ko te hua i te kamo taheke i runga raa. No reira e te rangatira Erima takoto mai I roto I te ringa o Ihowa o nga Mano e moe e.” ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour Pays Tribute to Erima Henare
    “E ua e te ua tata rahi ana, Ko te hua i te kamo taheke i runga raa. No reira e te rangatira Erima takoto mai I roto I te ringa o Ihowa o nga Mano e moe e.” ...
    2 weeks ago

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