An outside view on CGT

Written By: - Date published: 7:03 am, July 8th, 2011 - 78 comments
Categories: labour, national, tax - Tags: ,

We tend to get very wrapped up in our own world here in NZ. Same old voices running the same old lines round and round in circles until we’re all dizzy and just a little bit nauseous. Sometimes it’s good to hop off the merry-go-round and seek an outside perspective on the issues of the day.

Case in point the CGT (capital gains tax) debate. Yesterday’s Morning Report interview with Sydney Morning Herald economics correspondent Peter Martin (hat tip Gordon Campbell) is an excellent overview of the topic, and an eye opener of an international perspective. The audio is here, but I’ve transcribed some extracts.

On how odd we are for not having a CGT:

I thought NZ was something of a worldwide orphan … members of both sides of [Australian] politics use NZ as a sort of case study in strangeness because there’s a yawning gap in New Zealand’s tax system, which isn’t there in the UK’s tax system, isn’t there in the US tax system, isn’t there in the Australian tax system.

And yet the New Zealanders showed the way for us in the mid 80’s with their goods and services tax. And yet there’s always been this strange thing missing that New Zealand’s been unable to do, and I must say I thought it would never happen, it would be one of the continuing quaint things about our cousins across the ditch.

On how a CGT allows all income to be treated as income:

… the idea is that if you earn a buck, you’ve earned a buck, it doesn’t matter how you’ve earned it. So if you earn a buck from working hard, labour, you’re taxed on that at your marginal tax rate. If you earn a buck from selling shares at a profit, or buying anything else really and selling it at a profit, speculation I suppose you could call it, you’re taxed on that at your marginal tax rate.

So if your marginal tax rate is low, 15%, that’s what you’re taxed. If your marginal tax rate is 30%, that’s what you’re taxed. …

There is no [separate] capital gains tax in Australia, and there is no [separate] capital gains tax in a lot of other countries. Capital gains are regarded as income.

Far from the nightmare of complexity that the Nats are trying to scare us with, that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it! There’s plenty of other good stuff in that interview on how the lack of a CGT creates damaging distortions in our tax system, and how (despite all dire predictions) the CGT didn’t destroy the property market in Australia. But I want to finish with one final point, that is particularly important, as hysterical Nats try and talk down the amount that a CGT might raise:

Raising isn’t the point. This is misunderstood.

A capital gains tax could be very effective if it raised nothing. What the capital gains tax does ideally is stop people, for tax reasons, changing income into capital gain. So even if the amount that you forecast you would raise from the capital gains tax is low, that isn’t an argument against the capital gains tax. Because if it is low, it’s because what it is doing is encouraging people to make fewer “capital gains” (with quotation marks around them) and make greater income.

It’s more a case of just not having (sort of) a big gap in the tax system people can drive trucks through.

Far from the complexity, avoidance, and low yield that the Nats would have you believe, the picture of CGT that emerges from this interview is one of simplicity, fairness, and closing loopholes. No wonder the Nats hate it.

78 comments on “An outside view on CGT”

  1. Harris was very clear and succinct.  I hope that his comments are utilised again.

    I bet the Labour leadership is pleased that on day three of that launch that was not the CGT debate is still going strong.  The debate in the various papers is fascinating.  The Herald said yesterday that Goff’s CGT proposal showed courage, and when you can rely on Hooten and Farrar for support you know the Nats have a headache.

    The proposal clearly shows that Labour has a plan and National does not.  And the tax will allow the Government not to sell shares in the power companies to cover the Government’s expenses. 

    • queenstfarmer 1.1

      the tax will allow the Government not to sell shares in the power companies to cover the Government’s expenses

      Agreed with you up to this point. Based on the SWG numbers, the estimate is that a CGT on investment property would bring in around $700m a year, after 15 years. How is that going to cover the Govt’s current expenses, let alone the spending increases promised by Labour?

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Did you read this bit?

        Raising isn’t the point. This is misunderstood.

        A capital gains tax could be very effective if it raised nothing.

        If people are presently managing to structure their income as capital gains that income is not taxed. Throw in a CGT and that income becomes taxable even if the actual capital gains disappear. In other words, we may see a increase in tax take indirectly from the CGT as some present tax structures used to minimise tax are forgone.

        • queenstfarmer 1.1.1.1

          I agree. Hence, my questioning the assertion that the CGT would cover Govt expenses.

          • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1

            The CGT itself may not but it’s total effect probably will.

          • Deadly_NZ 1.1.1.1.2

            At the end of the day who really cares?? Just as long as it evens out the playing field and stops the insane property investment, that stops ‘working’ kiwi’s buying their own houses. And if they cant pay it (CGT) Sell up, then pay the tax, and if you still don’t like it. I hear that Somalia is ripe for property investment sharks, you should go well with the Pirates they’ll make you feel right at home. for a price.

      • the estimate is that a CGT on investment property would bring in around $700m a year, after 15 years. How is that going to cover the Govt’s current expenses, let alone the spending increases promised by Labour?
         
        Initially I agree it will not cover current expenses.  Putting everything else aside if the Government does not sell the power company shares there is a $6 billion hole in the country’s finances that will need to be replaced with borrowing.
         
        As time goes by this hole can be refilled by the larger than otherwise dividend stream that the Government will receive and also by CGT as payments start.
         
        The interest cost on the extra borrowing will be in the vicinity of $300 million a year which is less than the forecast dividend stream.

        EDIT: I also agree with Draco that the general tax take should increase and this will also help fill in the hole.

  2. Chris 2

    Yes it is a bolder plan by Labour, it will make sure they won’t win the election, but it’s a plan even if it’s in the wrong direction to win an election.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      In that case I hope Labour comes up with many more policies which “make sure they won’t win the election” 🙂

  3. aj 3

    A CGT is not going to stop people from striving for capital gains. It just means that the $100,000 windfall gain becomes $85,000, or the $1,000,000 gain becomes $850,000

    That’s no going to be end times for investors in any market that may be caught by a CGT. The arguments against it are just the normal ideological ones that come from those who view any form of taxation as theft.

    • felix 3.1

      “The arguments against it are just the normal ideological ones that come from those who view any form of taxation as theft.”

      This.

      • That’s nonsense. There are always valid arguments, ideological and others, for and against any tax.

        Virtually everyone accepts that tax is essential, so “view any form of taxation as theft” is a poor attempt at labelling abuse.

        • felix 3.1.1.1

          Not from you there aren’t.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2

          Most people accept that taxes are necessary. The psychopaths leading National and Act think it’s theft.

        • Deadly_NZ 3.1.1.3

          Really I think that to have a work mate pay a lesser amount of tax just because he has an investment property is obscene. Bring on the CGT.

    • Frank Macskasy 3.2

      Indeed, Aj.

      I recall the same arguments against GST – and that tax hit low-income earners/beneficiaries/superannuitants even worse.

      Yet, here we are twentyfour years later – the world has not ended. (*Looks out window to confirm continuing existence of the universe*)

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1

        (*Looks out window to confirm continuing existence of the universe*)

        Testing…

        • Deadly_NZ 3.2.1.1

          Oh shoot the Yes button failed, press………..press……….press…………press…………
          ” We are sorry Universal testing failed”
          “self destruct armed. 15 minutes to detonation”
          “Please enter your 256k encryption code, to disarm”
          “Sorry you took too long”
          b
          y
          e

  4. Australia is the obvious place to look to for the pros and cons of a Capital Gains Tax. And there’s obviously good reasons why many countries use CGT in various forms – as in fact we already do in New Zealand.

    But there’s a lot more to it than one glowing review of one opinion.

    Far from the complexity, avoidance, and low yield…

    A quick squiz at Capital gains tax in Australia suggests it mightn’t be quite as simple as you’re making out.

    Avoidance is an issue with any form of taxation.

    Yield can be low, especially in the first decade of implementation, and can be quite variable, as shown here: Chart of the day, ruining it for everyone edition. It’s noticable how slow and low it can be, and the impact it can have on tax take during a recession.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Why don’t you read the post and listen to the piece before commenting mate, you know the bit where the guy says a CGT could raise no money and still be very effective. Loser.

      • Why don’t you read the post and what I quoted? You know, the bit where they guy says:

        Far from the complexity, avoidance, and low yield that the Nats would have you believe

  5. Longinius Howard 5

    That should be nauseated not nauseous

  6. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6

    “A capital gains tax could be very effective if it raised nothing.”

    Yet yesterday:

    “Danyl at DimPost nails it with characteristic economy – “National wants to finance the rebuilding of Christchurch via asset sales; Labour via a tax on property speculation”.”

    If CGT is going to raise no money, how is Labour going to fund its promises?

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      Christchurch needs to be funded and rebuilt over the next 10 or more years, not in the next 2 years.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.1.1

        That’s brilliantly answered, then.

        If CGT is to be enacted to raise the money that National wants to raise by partial asset sales, but it is acknowledged that a CGT will raise no revenue, is there not a little problemette?

        • felix 6.1.1.1

          Try reading the post Ole. If CG is treated as income then the normal income tax applies.

          • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.1.1.1.1

            Only it is not. In Australia, if you have held the asset for a year it is not taxed as other income. it is taxed at 50% of the rate of income.

            But that wasn’t my point in any event.

            I am inclined to favour the tax as a re-balancing exercise, something the post lauds (“Raising isn’t the point.”) That’s fine. But if it raises no extra money you can’t claim it as the counter-balance to partial asset sales.

            • felix 6.1.1.1.1.1

              If more CGs are classed as income then more income is taxed then more money is raised.

              • higherstandard

                What about the losses ?

                • Daveo

                  Aren’t losses already able to be written off against tax on other income?

                  • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                    Not if they are on capital account.

                    • Totally buggered

                      The last time the country was in panic mode over debt we sold our railways telecommunications forestry fishing banks an airline and and god knows what else and began the process of privatizing our power companies ,all of which made huge profits for the advertising industry law firms overseas profits to everywhere else and put alot of people out of work.We got in return Australian companies setting the platform for NZ business not that that was entirely detrimental but it did change us from being able to see the wood for the trees which is to say we didnt have a grip on the detail in this international carve up of the country.
                      Our core resources last time were agriculture fishing forestry and cheap power now it is importing other peoples money for housing and growing an urban economy cos its easier, bugger food its in the too hard basket yeah right .Farming is being forced to rape the water and ecology of the country because we failed to secure our fishing industry and stop the consumption of agricultural land for urban sprawl.
                      Why should we have to allow all the fishing nations in the world the right to our resource without being able to control the value of that resource all the way back to where they come from.Might over right.
                      So when the environment is fucked and the food supply is the price of Japan’s the only people who will be able to live here will be the ones who have made their money else where which is the road we are going down. We cant even manage 4 million people let alone think we could support 15million.
                      Capital gains tax might be a good start in bringing some sense to this country’s finance problems

    • Draco T Bastard 6.2

      Yep, still gormless and still a fool. Taking a sentence out of context is a good way to the lose meaning and thus the argument. And you hadn’t even begun yet.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.2.1

        Still a bastard, I see (handle hilarity never gets old).

        There I was thinking that a large point of the post was that a CGT is valuable for re-balancing, even if it raises no money.

        Man, am I stupid.

        • Draco T Bastard 6.2.1.1

          Two things:
          1.) The CGT will probably raise some money itself. It’s actually highly unlikely to raise none although it’s possible to be low.
          2.) The existence of a CGT will likely cause a shift in present tax structures which will most likely cause an increase in the tax take.

          Both of these points you completely failed to address and yet they were both within the scope of the context of the first sentence you quoted.

          Man, am I stupid.

          Yes, you are.

          • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.2.1.1.1

            Yes. I did fail to address them, didn’t I? But then, I did not then fully appreciate that it fell to me (and apparently, to me alone) to present a point-by-point refutation of every aspect of the post. Nor did I then completely grasp that a failure to do so made me stupid.

            Luckily for you, I do not require such rigour from you, Bastard. If you feel like it, you might address the sole point I raised which was: how can you claim the CGT will make partial asset sales unnecessary while at the same time accepting that it will raise not much revenue?

            And if you choose not to (as you have twice so far) I doubt I will find it necessary to put it down to your lack of intellect (although I have to say, if you cannot find terms of abuse other than those I have already applied to myself I may have to conclude that you are a little derivative).

  7. higherstandard 7

    So when’s the actual policy details coming out ?

    The speculation about what’s in or out of the CGT is getting a bit boring.

  8. queenstfarmer 8

    Good commentary. One point though, remember that in NZ capital gains are regarded as income in a variety of circumstances (at the marginal tax rate), however the gaping hole in this is investment property.

  9. Lanthanide 9

    A (really boring) tax professor from Auckland University I think it was, some university anyway, was on the radio this morning saying that actually the guy yesterday oversimplified and distorted how Australia’s system really worked.

    He said that actually Australia has a ledger separate from your normal income tax at which capital gains are on and on taxed at (and losses are carried forward separate). He didn’t give a precise clarification on what this meant, but I think the gist of it is that if you’re earning $100k salary and your marginal tax rate is say 30%, if you make capital gains of $20k in the year they will go onto the separate CGT scale at $20k and you might pay 15% tax on them, and they are not added to your income tax (so you don’t effectively earn $120k in income and pay 30% marginal on the extra $20k).

    So, given that, I’d be a bit weary to rely on anything specific yesterday’s “economics correspondent” said.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      I’m not. What he said, that income should be taxed no matter how it’s “earned”, makes sense. On top of that, obviously the one Labour is putting forward won’t be the same as the Australian one and is, hopefully, even better after learning lessons from the Australian one.

      • hopefully, even better after learning lessons from the Australian one.

        Yes, hopefully, and that’s an advantage of following rather than leading with new tax systems.

        Labour probably still have a few years to fine tune their version.

    • Lanthanide, the Australian addressed this. He mentioned that the Howard government changed it from the marginal tax rate to the scheme you outlined (and effectively cut it to 15% or thereabouts).

      So – at least on that basis – you shouldn’t ignore his other points. 

  10. marsman 10

    Duncan Garner, Jackboot Joyce’s Mediaworks Poodle, lead a scaremongering bleat-along on the ‘ news’ last night. The sale of farms will be taxed, in headlines. A farmer’s representative was nearly apoplectic trying to give reasons why this would be unfair, he said ‘ a tax on the sale of assets is against the NZ psyche’. (!)

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      Well it’s again a certain minority interest group’s psyche anyways.

    • queenstfarmer 10.2

      Provided that farms are going to be taxed then it’s hardly scaremongering. But the farmers need to calm down and not spout nonsense (“against the NZ psyche”).

      For a start, I’d suggest it’s in everyone’s interest that the days of do-nothing capital gains for even marginal farms are over (for a decent while, anyway).

      Secondly, any capital gain will be (I expect) offsettable against the massive capital expenditure that farms typically require (or at least, require to warrant a genuine capital gain).

    • NZ pychopathology more like. I think its this underworld of entrenched settler entitlement that making Labour bring in a Clayton’s CGT at 15%. If the CGT was a the marginal tax rate there might be a bit more booty, but a hell of a lot more fury among the petty bourgeoisie. If capital gains is to be treated as income it should be added to total household income and taxed at marginal rates?

      • Colonial Viper 10.3.1

        The issue is inflation eroding away over time the value of the capital gains from any held asset.

        If you buy $10K of property today and sell it next month for $14K that’s a $4K capital gain right?

        If you buy $10K of property and sell it in 10 years time for $14K you make nothing – adjusted for inflation. To take another bite out of that at the marginal tax rate means you lose value, in terms of inflation adjusted dollars.

        • Ian Boag 10.3.1.1

          Agreed – the inflation thing has to be considered. There’s the other factor that if the purchase of the asset involved debt (as they usually do) the % gain of your asset will be greater than the inflation rate. Gearing and all that.

          Treating half the gain (rather than all of it) as income is a simple and reasonably fair way of dealing with this. Possibly that’s part of why the Australians, Canadians and Americans do it this way.

          While we’re at it, one might note that no country collects tax on unrealised gains and everyone exempts the family home. Can’t see an NZ CGT (if it happens) being different.

          According to the Tax Working Group the Oz CGT collects about $20b/year. Given that we are about 20% of their size then it seems reasonable to think the figure in NZ for a similar tax would be about $4b give or take a bit.

      • Chris 10.3.2

        There has been a bit of a study on this and it was found that making capital gains at marginal tax rates actually reduces the revenue for the government:

        http://www.adamsmith.org/publications/economy/the-effect-of-capital-gains-tax-rises-on-revenues/

        Admittedly this is looking at the effect of tax increases and decreases as opposed to the introduction of the tax but still applies.

      • Colonial Viper 10.3.3

        yeah anytime I read right wing analyses it says that lowering tax rates to zero magically causes tax revenues to shoot up

        Look at how well it works in the USA

        • Chris 10.3.3.1

          What are you talking about?

          I don’t think it should be at zero I agree with a capital gains tax. I was just trying to say it shouldn’t be at the marginal tax rates. Instead of just posting that randomly without any backing, like you the way you have dismissed it, I decided to find some research which backed it up.

          In case you were wondering nowhere in the that study does it advocate removing a capital gains tax as a way to increase revenues.

  11. Frank Macskasy 11

    As I pointed out to Redlogix, in the thread “The housing market implications of capital gains tax”, I’ve owned rental properties as well (still do).

    I could never understand why, when I sold two of them, I could ‘earn’ a tax-free capital gain. The first time my accountant told me this, I thought he was incompetant and actually sought other advice. That advice confirmed my accountant.

    On top of that, I could claim for “depreciation” – even while my property values were going up. (Point of interest: I considered the tax policy of claiming for depreciation on a house that was APPRECIATING in value, to be obscene. I never claimed for it.)

    As an investor, I’ll put my money into property and rent out to a low-income family. I don’t expect to be given a “free ride” in the taxation system and not pay my fair share, should I sell a house and make a gain.

    That is why Labour’s plan for a CGT is timely – actually, way past timely! – and fair. No one else gets tax exemptions for mondey they make – why should property investors? Otherwise, quite simply, we are bludging off hard working kiwis who earn wages and businesspeople who take risks in their ventures.

    So, kudos to Phil Goff.

    And shame on John Key for attempting to perpetuate a social injustice and economic nonsense.

  12. Endymion 12

    “On how a CGT allows all income to be treated as income…

    If you earn a buck from selling shares at a profit, or buying anything else really and selling it at a profit, speculation I suppose you could call it, you’re taxed on that at your marginal tax rate.”

    If the IRD can establish that you earn your living ‘speculating’ on shares, FX, the horses or even pokey machines it already has the option of treating it as ‘earned income’ for taxation. That probably isn’t as well enforced as it could and should be, but all a CGT does is widen the net to bring in so-called ‘mum-and-dad shareholders’.

    Moreover a capital gains tax is, like GST, a tax on inflation.

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      If the IRD can establish that you earn your living ‘speculating’ on shares, FX, the horses or even pokey machines it already has the option of treating it as ‘earned income’ for taxation.

      It’s probably not enforced well because the legislation is so fuzzy it makes it easy to dodge. A CGT fixes that.

      Moreover a capital gains tax is, like GST, a tax on inflation.

      Apparently it’s set at 15% and not the full tax rate so as to account for inflation.

  13. SHG 13

    A CGT didn’t kill the Australian property investment market because of the way the investment revenue is offset against the mortgage under the Aussie tax system.

    For example:

    I borrow money to buy a property.

    The repayments cost me $y/month.

    I put some tenants into the property and they pay me $z/month

    If z is less than y – if I’m making less in rent than I’m paying in interest – then the property is negatively-geared and y becomes tax deductible, as does every single expense to do with the property, since on paper I’m losing money by owning the house.

    • Lanthanide 13.1

      Works the same here, except you can only claim mortgage interest, not mortgage principle.

      If you were using a LAQC then you could claim the entire mortgage expense.

      • SHG 13.1.1

        And then you can sell the house, pay off the mortgage, and pocket everything remaining as pure profit, untaxed?

  14. Thinking more about the way this debate is working it is a very neat skewering of John Key himself.  If he objects and complains all that he will be doing is adopting a position where he can be accused of acting out of self interest.  As I/S points out he is essentially favouring those with capital over those who work for a living.
     

    • Jim Nald 14.1

      “skewering” – hehe

      Might we see John Armstrong’s headline for his upcoming piece to read:

      “Labour’s CGT: John Keybab Getting The Heat From His Doners”

    • Lanthanide 14.2

      Wonder if they would fly in a debate in parliament.

      “The prime minister, and other ministers of the cabinet, between them own xx properties. It’s easy to see why they don’t want a CGT introduced into this country”.

  15. tsmithfield 15

    We already have a capital gains tax in NZ. Its called GST. If the price at sale is higher, the GST is higher.

    • Colonial Viper 15.1

      ?

      GST doesn’t apply to shares or established rental properties

    • rd 15.2

      And if the property is sold with the tenants as a going concern the GST is 0 rated.

    • lprent 15.3

      Huh. Perhaps you should look at this as a very short summary.

      It is a sales tax that is applied at the universal rate of 15% on almost everything you buy – notable exceptions are:

      house sales
      house rentals
      privately sold second-hand goods
      financial services such as mortgages, loans and investments
      the sale of a business that is capable of being a going concern.

  16. mikesh 16

    CGT is still problematic. A better approach would be to disallow, for tax purposes, all expenses related to property, on the grounds that they are capital related rather than income related.

  17. Craig Glen Eden 17

    Yup the Nats are worried theirs no doubt about that, this tax is polarizing. This policy (CGT) on top of others Labour has released makes a clear difference between National and Labour. National have no more dead rats to swallow last time they pretended they were light blue and you can trust the nice MR Key he will deliver a brighter future. Facts are he hasn’t, wage gap with Aussie isnt closing,Government debt is up not down, increased people unemployed the whole aspirational brighter future is looking a lot like some bad investment rip off. Labour just has to weight for the Hanover effect and it will be very interesting to see which way the investors chose to spend their vote.

  18. tsmithfield 18

    So that seems to be more a problem with GST law than an argument for a CGT.

  19. tsmithfield 19

    Sorry. My comment above didn’t attach to the correct thread for some reason.

    I would be interested in comments on how a CGT copes with inflation. If an asset increases in value at the rate of inflation there hasn’t actually been a true gain, so should it be taxed?

    • Colonial Viper 19.1

      I’ve learnt that’s probably why the CGT is set significantly under the marginal income tax rate.

  20. tsmithfield 20

    Perhaps. But it still doesn’t completely deal with the inequity of the situation. Capital gains are quite different to trading gains, where the profit usually accrues in close proximity to the purchase. So inflation isn’t such an issue. But with a CGT an asset might be sold 20 years after the purchase. In that case the government is likely making a windfall gain on the basis of inflation.

    • Draco T Bastard 20.1

      You’re just not with it today are you? That’s why it’s set at 15% and not 30%. Personally I’d prefer proper indexing but it seems people are already too scared about it being “complex”.

    • Colonial Viper 20.2

      Yeah an outlier case like that is likely to end up with a higher effective tax rate, once inflation is factored in.

      While properties sold within a few years of acquisition (which form most of investment property transactions I figure) are likely to end up with a lower effective tax rate.

      Remember a family home sold after 20 years occupation and ownership is exempt from the CGT.

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