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Capital Fair Gains

Written By: - Date published: 8:54 am, June 15th, 2010 - 17 comments
Categories: tax - Tags:

At the moment the UK is debating a rise in Capital Gains Tax, from 18% to 40 or 50%. The debate is largely going on within the ruling Tory party, as their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats won several tax concessions so that they could create a GBP10,000 income tax free band. The proposed tax rise is to treat earned and unearned income the same.

Most other western countries have a capital gains tax, but in New Zealand unearned income (or capital gains) is not taxed at all. As Sam Morgan pointed out, he doesn’t seem to be able to find any tax to pay. If you just make a profit from buy and selling stuff (eg houses) there’s no earned income. There’s also not a lot of benefit to society, as you’re likely just pushing house prices up and making us all more indebted. A Capital Gains Tax would help rid us of that perverse incentive.

It would also help close a loophole where a business can be created, increased in value, and sold at a profit, avoiding a lot of tax (or any tax at all if the business avoids making a taxable profit) for the owner.

It is hard to see a better tax that would raise billions of dollars to be used elsewhere (a tax free band in NZ please? funding superannuation anyone? All the Nats cancelled Education back?) and help re-balance the economy, reducing another housing bubble like the one that popped in 2008. As it stands we’ve been borrowing money off Japanese housewives to bid ever higher against each other for houses. The Japanese get rich from loaning to us, and our exchange rate goes artificially high from all the yen buying kiwi dollars to lend to us; this in turn hurts our exporters who we need to increase the wealth of the country. It also means that we have no domestic savings to grow NZ businesses, who turn to foreign ownership to grow… before you know it foreigners own our entire economy and New Zealand is a permanently poor nation with no control over our destiny – our debt (mainly private) is already more than 100% of our GDP (yearly income), so we’re well on the way.

A fair capital gains tax would probably be very like the Australian version. The family home is excluded, the tax on any gain is only paid on realisation (ie when you actually sell an asset), and the gain is attenuated for inflation. It would only be paid by those who can afford to own expensive assets beyond their own home ie those wealthy enough to pay it, and including some of those who currently avoid tax.

National aren’t interested, as it’s their rich mates that benefit from not being taxed, while hard-working Kiwis foot the bill. The Greens support it, and Labour it dallying with it – they need encouragement, and help in selling it, to grasp the nettle.

The other side of the coin is that as well as not mortgaging ourselves to invest in unproductive sectors of the economy we also need to save. But the left seems to slowly be getting jiggy with such ideas as compulsory super, so there’s hope there. As long as the right haven’t sold New Zealand’s few remaining assets off before they get back in.


17 comments on “Capital Fair Gains ”

  1. vto 1

    How is the housing sector an unproductive sector of the economy? I think you will find it is one of the largest components of the economy.

    If you are referring to the fact that houses are not exported and that only exporting parts of the economy are worthy then you sound very much like Don Nicholson, Fed Farmers head, who recently called farmers, manufacturers and tourism operators the “real” New Zealanders and everyone else effectively leaches. Exposes an ignorance and a wankishness.

    In addition, your reference to Japan is way out of kilter – that country is even more burdened by debt than us. Their housewives may lend to us but they borrow more off German husbands.

    Bit of a creaking post.

    • Bunji 1.1

      The fact that housing is a large sector of the economy is in fact the problem.

      Building houses may be productive, but everyone deciding to pay each other more and more for the same asset (borrowing to the hilt to do so), is unproductive. It creates no income for the economy, but increases our debt. Unless we are creating or adding value to something (goods or services), it is unproductive.

      Japan’s problem is public debt – in the reverse situation to us their government owes a lot, but their private sector is savings rich. But due to deflation and the like their interest rates are about 1% – which makes high interest economies like ours was, and will be in a year’s time, very attractive for their savings.

      • vto 1.1.1

        Yes well Bunji, the problem is not the housing sector it is the investment sector. A subtle but real difference.

        Much like the investment sector in Australia ramping up mining sector values above the line of normal value, whereas the business of actual mining carries on, albeit distorted by the investment sector’s wayward ways.

        It just annoys me when it is suggested that sectors of the economy which are not exporting are described as unproductive. It is bullshit. Such a description suggests that an economy (be it NZs, or the entire worlds) is a zero-sum game i.e. all the wealth that can ever exist, currently exists, and that it is a matter of taking it off your fellow manwoman to improve your own relative position.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      How is the housing sector an unproductive sector of the economy?

      A house doesn’t produce any wealth itself, ergo, it is unproductive.

      • vto 1.2.1

        Then in that case Mr Draco everything is unproductive.

        I don’t see a litre of milk produce any wealth in the way you infer. What product does? Nothing does. All that happens with everything is that people pay to use it. People buy or rent a house to live in… people buy a litre of milk to drink and grow dem strong bones…. people buy or hire a japanese car to drive around in… people in a factory may buy a machine which spits out widgets they can sell, but even that is but the same again, namely people paying to use the widget. No widget, machine, car, food or house produces wealth in the manner you describe.

        “The housing sector is unproductive” is one of those banal myths that simply expose an ignorance of economies and wealth creation. Unless you believe Draco that an economy (any one, you choose) is a zero-sum game. And frankly I find that absurd…

        • RedLogix

          Exactly vto.

          To those who think housing is unproductive, I invite them to move themselves, partner and children, under a nice highway bridge someplace.

          Get back to us when you’ve got it figured out…

  2. Sanctuary 2

    Reading the British press and general reaction online, it seems Nick Clegg is front footing all this and repeating all the coalition mistakes of NZ First and the Alliance in spades. The tragedy is the Liberals will get some dog bone of the least possible amount of faux electoral reform the Tories can get away with just in time for their electoral oblivion.

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      What mistakes were those and what mistakes are they repeating?

      • Bunji 2.1.1

        Often the mistakes seem to equate to ‘going into government’ and ‘actually doing something’. But given those points are the main reason most politicians go in to parliament (because they’re vain enough to think that they can make a difference), those are mistakes that are always going to be repeated.

        The LibDems have extracted quite major concessions from the Conservatives, and I don’t see how front-footing on those concessions will do them any (further) harm. Going into government was always going to be difficult as the views of their supporters are actually quite disparate. Ignoring the ‘left-right’ axis and placing themselves at one end of the ‘liberal-authoritarian’ one leaves a lot of scope for their supporters to project onto – going into government was always going to be a disappointment for some of them. Incidentally although many saw them as ‘left’ following the moving right of UK Labour, UK Labour’s big lurch towards authoritarianism actually left a lot of policy overlap with the Tories (eg getting rid of national ID cards).

        Yes they will only get Preferential Voting out of the Conservatives, but even that will give them noticeably more seats, making the possibility of them getting power again into a probability; and when they can then team up with Labour they should be able to extract futher electoral reform.

        And yes, should they get that further electoral reform, they may well find themselves with Alliance-like problems, where with proportional representation many see they might be better off splitting into a new party…

        Personally I’d be quite happy if one of National’s partners could extract a Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax and $20,000 income free tax band (with personal tax rates up to 50%+national insurance staying), even without the other concessions the LibDems got. Maybe Act, they profess a liberal bent 😈

        • Lanthanide

          Thanks, very informative. Still waiting for Sanctuary to elucidate on what he was hinting at, though.

        • Fred

          Personal tax up to 50%?

          You are kidding me I hope. What do you hope to fund with this exactly?

  3. seth 3

    The Sam Morgan thing is a complete Strawman. It was an out of context interview applied to something else.

    Trademe pays millions in tax a year and creates hundreds of jobs. Without Sam Morgan, the trademe culture in NZ would be nothing. eBay never took off here, and its quite likely that nothing else would’ve been there in its place, and been as successful. Even though he no longer owns trademe, saying he pays no tax is rubbish, when he is responsible for millions of dollars a year in tax, and hundreds of jobs. This is before you even start to calculate the RWT he is paying on his millions of dollars.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      Ebay never took off because Trademe got in first.

      Frankly ebay is hideous anyway. Letting sellers have free-form control over their auction layout and style makes ebay into a horrid mish-mash of geocities garishness that belongs in the dustbin. There are some things that ebay does better, and a few really annoying restrictions about trademe, but in general trademe is much more pleasant to shop from because everything follows a uniform layout.

    • Bunji 3.2

      trade me took off because Sam Morgan saw that ebay was yet another foreign technology company (others include Apple) that was neglecting NZ, grabbed the opportunity, and created a better product. Well done that man.

      The fact that Sam Morgan, a prime candidate to pay lots of capital gains tax, strongly supports it, seeing it as helping solve the problems I outline, is relevant to NZ tax discourse whatever context the original interview was in. Sure it took 3 months for journos to pick up the ‘scoop’, but that is just evident of how much our media has been run down in this country; they’re not the fourth estate they could be (and shows how important it is that we get a well-funded public broadcaster, as evidently the private ones can’t pick up the slack).

      re the RWT: Sam Morgan ends up claiming the vast majority of his tax back because of his large amount of charitable giving. Which probably shouldn’t be complained about (although he could always charitably give to our government as well, they do quite a few good works for society…).

  4. wtl 4

    Actually, if you are buying and selling houses, shares etc. for the sole purpose of making a capital gain, then you are supposed to declare the gain as income and pay tax on it. However, I’m not sure how well this rule is enforced. I remember some noises being made about the IRD intending to clamp down on traders such as this but I’m not sure whether it is happening or not.

    Of course a more comprehensive CGT would catch a larger number or people and be easy to enforce (as it is less ambiguous). But I don’t see it happening as long National oppose it – they will not put one in place when they are in government and Labour won’t dare to either as National will find it very easy to spin as ‘bad’. Plus, I’m not sure a CGT is the answer – a land tax or something similar might be more effective as it penalises people holding on to unproductive assets.

  5. Terry 5

    Bunji, you have my vote.

    How do you propose we implement it, given that
    most parliamentarians own more than one house ?

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