Keith Ng’s four tax myths

Written By: - Date published: 7:31 am, May 25th, 2017 - 23 comments
Categories: class war, spin, tax - Tags: , , , , , ,

A useful piece from Keith Ng (an extract from a new PSA booklet on topics in tax policy and practice):

Four tax myths that might pop up this year

Myth 1: “40% of households pay no ‘net taxes'”

The problem with “net taxes” is that it excludes GST, which accounts for 32 per cent of all taxes. Not quite as much as income tax (38 per cent of all taxes), but it’s a whopping big heap not to count. It also only counts cash transfers – so if you get cash from the government, that gets counted, but if you get a service from the government (such as education, or healthcare) that does not.

“Net tax” is an arbitrary and meaningless way to count who is “contributing” and who isn’t. It exists as a political tool. Although it is produced by Treasury, Treasury themselves have never published it. It has only ever been  released by the minister of finance’s office, and usually its first public appearance is on David Farrar’s blog.

Myth 2: The top 10% of taxpayers paying 46% of taxes proves they’re overtaxed

It’s true, the top 10 per cent of taxpayers pay 46 per cent of all income tax – but that’s only half the picture.

How much tax you pay depends on two things: a) the tax rate, and b) your income. It’s pretty straightforward, so it’s incredible how often people blame “high amount of tax paid” on the tax rate being too high, and completely ignore the income effect.

The top 10 per cent of taxpayers make around 34 per cent of all taxable income, nearly as much as the bottom 70 per cent combined. So while they pay a lot of tax, they also make a lot of money.

Myth 3: Bracket creep has reversed the effects of the 2010 tax cuts

…people are still paying less income tax than they did in 2010.

While bracket creep is rightly characterised as “a tax increase by stealth”, successive governments – left and right – have kept it as a handy political tool. It’s a mechanism that automatically raises taxes a tiny bit each year; over time, it gives governments the option to increase spending or to tweak the tax system.

Myth 4: Tax cuts pay for themselves

Here’s an idea: If everyone gave the government less money, the government would receive more money. This is not a joke. The 2010 tax cuts were estimated to cost around $1.1b over four years. But by 2014, the tax cut was supposed to result in the government receiving an extra $175m a year in taxes.

The magical part is a single line in the budget called “Adjustment for macroeconomic effects”. Treasury includes this because they believe that tax cuts will help the economy grow faster, and a bigger economy means more taxes.

By the time 2014 rolled around, the economy grew slower than expected and tax revenue was $4b less than the 2010 forecast.

The PSA’s “Progressive Thinking: Ten Perspectives on Tax” booklet features 10 authors, academics and campaigners writing journalistically on a broad range of topics in tax policy and practice. It is being released on Monday 22nd May in advance of the Government’s Budget, and will be available to read online at the PSA’s website from Monday 22nd onwards.

Keith Ng is a data visualisation consultant by day and data journalist by night, using data to understand and explain complex issues and policies.

Eric Crampton wrote a followup piece: Tax system is heavily reliant on high earners, and a discussion between Ng and Crampton followed on Twitter.

23 comments on “Keith Ng’s four tax myths”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    So if Treasury issues the same advice about tax cuts in the future, the obvious sensible thing to do is to sack them and hire someone competent instead.

    Public finances are too important to be ruined by partisan fantasists.

    • aerobubble 1.1

      Seymour argued on tv last night that landlords would raise rents if Labour remove the loophole over writing off loses on rentals. This requires that no market forces are at play, that landlords dictate price i.e that Seymour believe that housing is not functioning properly, and that investors would not shy away from becoming landlords if they could not benefit from writing off loses as part of their overall taxes. So was Seymoour being liberal with truth, disingenious, or clueless? Why would a MP vying for at would be regarded as the most astute Epsom voter by behaving like a little shit? Is he aligning himself with his core constituency. Is it any wonder that the housing market is so out of kilter when the ruling economic voter backs such loathsome ideals. Unabated open rent seeking behaviour, clueless to the inevitable destabilization of economic fortunes for all.

      • Et Tu Brute 1.1.1

        You can argue semantics and exactly how it is explained, but it seems a basic, reasonable assertion that an increase in costs (or a decrease in profits) puts upward pressure on prices. Pressure probably being the key word. You are correct that other things come into play, such as the demand side of the curve. But at the end of the day (to use that much-overused phrase), Labour wouldn’t be putting it forward as policy if it wasn’t to try and cool down the housing market… by making investment look less attractive.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1.1

          That’s what all the little speculator shills said in Australia: “if you remove this loophole we’ll raise rents”. They removed the loophole: it didn’t happen.

          Are you going to be a deceitful ignoramus like that ACT low-life, or do facts form any part of your opinions?

          • Et Tu Brute 1.1.1.1.1

            I said it applies upward pressure on prices. Not that prices must necessarily go up. There is a fundamental difference. Prices are not set in a vacuum but in a complex environment of thousands (or millions) of individual decisions. But more importantly, if this doesn’t put upward pressure on prices, why even do it? Isn’t the point to make speculation less attractive?

            • aerobubble 1.1.1.1.1.1

              For every up there is a down. I said Seymour sucks because he thinks lowering the value of a rental would automatically raise rents. Nothing about investor pressure, rather investor would sell homes the more costly their position than increase their costs risking asking for more rent. Thats the point of removing the loop hole stress investors who cannot raise rents, as we can see National have come to the party raising subsides so rentor can pay more in rent.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      Treasury are a bunch of fantasists that still believe in the delusional ‘free-market capitalism’ despite all the evidence that proves that it simply doesn’t work.

  2. Ad 2

    Can I just heartily recommend this dense little set of tax essays to everyone.

    It’s exactly the kind of bite-sized set of tax discussions we have been needing for a long time.

    I loved in particular the Baucher and St Johns articles, found myself arguing with Bob Stephens’ contribution, and it was great to see Eaqub remind us of government complicity in the Panama Papers again.

    Each one only takes about 10 minutes to digest. And there’s no major specific political policies on offer – rather some general pointers.

    Thoroughly recommended as the appetiser before Budget 2017 today.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      What are you talking about?

      • Ad 2.1.1

        The link at the top of the post from which this article is sourced.

        Read it.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1.1

          This bit:

          The second idea is that we ought to be talking about tax like it’s a long-term savings account where we each deposit weekly, knowing that one day, we may well need to withdraw the money to pay for our healthcare costs, even if we’re healthy for now. In that sense, paying tax is a pragmatic decision – what it
          funds may not always be of immediate use to us, but it likely will be in the future.

          The word that they need to be using here isn’t ‘savings account’ but ‘insurance’ because that’s what it is. By maintaining the society that you live within by paying tax you get a huge amount of insurance for very, very little. In fact, it’s far better than insurance because you know that, as long as the society is well maintained, the resources will actually be there when they’re needed whereas with insurance there’s no guarantee of that – as the people of Christchurch found out.

  3. UncookedSelachimorpha 3

    Agree with Ng, but I think there is another important aspect to “The top 10% of taxpayers paying 46% of taxes”. This relies on defining the “top 10%” according to IRD-declared income, which is probably very misleading.

    Really rich people often have very little declared income. So it is likely that the top 10% according to wealth (or to actual income, not IRD-declared income) pay far less tax than the 46% of the total mentioned.

    In fact the top 10% according to wealth own 60% of the nation’s wealth – I bet they are paying a lot less than 60% of the tax, but this government isn’t interested in gathering that type of information. More interested in gathering info on beneficiaries – gotta be “data driven” with the poor people, but not with the richies.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      +1111

    • Jeremy 3.2

      That’s because the discussion outlined by the original author is about income taxes, not wealth taxes. In the long run an asset is only as good as the income it provides, which I believe shows there are a lot of crappy overpriced assets out there, Auckland housing comes to mind.

      If I’ve read the above article correctly the top 10% received 34% of the income and paid 46% of the taxes, bearing a larger proportion as their income allows, so the argument becomes subjective – how much is enough, over what threshold? Everyone has their own opinion.

      • UncookedSelachimorpha 3.2.1

        I suppose my point is that a discussion about income taxes…that ignores the fact that there appears to be a vast amount of real income outside the “income tax” system (especially income from capital)….is almost a pointless discussion. Undeclared real income (which favours the rich) distorts all conclusions about who is paying what.

        “In the long run an asset is only as good as the income it provides”

        The capital value of an asset is often disconnected from its (non-capital gains) income stream, at least in the medium-term – housing in NZ is currently an example.

        • Jeremy 3.2.1.1

          Apart from capital gains, I wouldn’t say there is vast real income on wealth that is untaxed. If there is, I’d like to know where it is, so I can find it.

          Yes we agree agree that capital value of assets is in many cases disconnected from the income they provide. Above you’ve outlined that the top 10% control 60% of the assets but pay 46% of the taxes, which if I understand your comment correctly, you have interpreted as the top 10% under paying tax, while I believe it indicates assets are overvalued by approx. 33% as indicated by the income they provide.

          I know better but I’m guilty of feeding this due to time constraints.

    • dukeofurl 3.3

      Yes . A high salary income person will have a family trust for housing , very simple to divert money to children at the 10.5% rate.

      Remember the Christchurch surgeons who were ‘paying themselves’ a very small salary compared to what they were actually earning. They were found to be doing so for tax avoidance reasons.
      But the same court case had a 3rd surgeon who was doing much the same thing but had a ‘hobby business on the side’, I think it was an orchard or vineyard or similar and she was found to be just ‘minimising tax’ which wasn’t illegal.

      So you can see all the horses will be stampeding through that particular open gate

      • Jeremy 3.3.1

        I don’t think any tax savings is worth staying awake at night worrying about the IRD. If income is allocated either to a single business, or you personally you will pay somewhere between 28% – 33% over 70K, with an effective rate for most of the top 10% of about 30%, which is not egregious.

        Vineyards for example are generally overpriced, and cash bonfires for the first 4 years +, I think demonstrating that many in the top 10% are throwing good money after bad assets, which increases their paper wealth but not their taxable income.

  4. Morrissey 4

    The news-reading automaton on Radio NZ news this morning dutifully read out the phrase “tax burden”. Is the National Government actually writing the scripts for these slaves now?

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    This open letter to the Green Party was penned after an opinion piece by Jill Abigail, a feminist and founding member of the party, was censored by the Greens’ leadership. (Redline has reprinted her article here).The intolerance of the Green Party leaders and their acceptance of the misogyny of gender ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • Member’s Day: End of Life Choice, part 3
    Today is a Member's day, and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill continues its slow crawl through its committee stage. They're spending the whole day on it today, though the first hour is likely to be spent on voting left over from last time. After that they'll move on ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Flight to Los Angeles turned back after passengers decide they don’t want to go anymore
    An ambitious plan to fly to Los Angeles petered out into a brief sight-seeing trip and a desire to return home and get some sleep before work tomorrow. Air New Zealand has confirmed a flight to Los Angeles last night was turned back about a quarter of the way into ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Indigenous Futures: defuturing and futuring – an analytical framework for policy development?
    There appears to be consensus – by omission – that the concept of indigenous futures should be accepted at face value. So I scavenged the internet to see if I could locate an academic descriptor or a framework around how we think about it as a concept, and whether it ...
    EllipsisterBy Ellipsister
    1 week ago
  • Cadbury rumoured to be releasing the Pineapple Trump
    Here’s another novelty chocolate to shove in your gob, New Zealand Cadbury could be seeking to make itself great again with a rumoured new release: Pineapple Trumps, a spin on its classic chocolate-encased pineapple treat and do-it-yourself tooth remover. The global confectionery manufacturer and bumbling “before” character in an infomercial, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • The coming resource war.
    During my time in the Pentagon I had the privilege of sitting down with military leaders and defence and security officials from a variety of Latin American nations. Sometimes I was present as a subordinate assistant to a senior US defence department official, sometimes as part of a delegation that ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    1 week ago
  • Māori Language Week with The Civilian
    Kia ora, Aotearoa. It’s that magical time of year. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. In English, the week that frightens talk radio. As you probably know by now, all your favourite media outlets are participating, some more successfully than others. Stuff has changed its name to Puna for the ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Will Horizons act on climate change?
    Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • BORA reform is stalled
    Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going? I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Corbyn and Brexit
    As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity. The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • A ditch for him to die in
    Last week, English Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly declared that he would rather die be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit. Unfortunately for him, the UK parliament accepted the challenge, and promptly dug one for him. The "rebellion bill" requires him to ask for and secure yet another temporary ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Warning! Warning! Danger Jacinda Ardern! Danger Marama Davidson! Warning!
    Lost In Political Space: The most important takeaway from this latest Labour sexual assault scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of ...
    1 week ago
  • Union solidarity with Ihumatao land occupation
    by Daphna Whitmore Every Sunday for the past two months unionists from First Union, with supporters from other unions, have set out to the Ihumatao land protest, put up gazebos and gas barbeques, and cooked food for a few hundred locals and supporters who have come from across the country. ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • Climate Change: The wrong kind of trees?
    Newsroom today has an excellent, in-depth article on pine trees as carbon sinks. The TL;DR is that pine is really good at soaking up carbon, but people prefer far-less efficient native forests instead. Which is understandable, but there's two problems: firstly, we've pissed about so long on this problem that ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • No freedom of speech in Turkey
    Canan Kaftancioglu is a Turkish politician and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Like most modern politicians, she tweets, and uses the platform to criticise the Turkish government. She has criticised them over the death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas grenade during ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Speaker: Tadhg Stopford: Why I’m standing for the ADHB
    Hi there, just call me Tim.We face tough problems, and I’d like to help, because there are solutions.An Auckand District Health Board member has nominated me for as a candidate for the ADHB, because her MS-related pain and fatigue is reduced with hemp products from Rotorua.  Nothing else helped her. If I ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Good little vassals
    The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?
    Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are ...
    2 weeks ago
  • The Politics of Opposition
    For most of the time I was a British MP, my party was out of government – these were the Thatcher years, when it was hard for anyone else to get a look-in. As a front-bencher and shadow minister, I became familiar with the strategies required in a parliamentary democracy ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago
  • More expert comments on the Canadian fluoride-IQ paper
    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    2 weeks ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago

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