We need more than capital gains tax to address inequality

Written By: - Date published: 2:41 pm, March 25th, 2019 - 46 comments
Categories: Amy Adams, capital gains, equality, greens, labour, national, tax, uncategorized - Tags: , ,

Since publication last month of the Tax Working Group’s final report, there has rightly been considerable comment on the unfairness of a tax system that lacks even a capital gains tax (CGT).

However, to me, the most significant comment of the 130-page report is that the expert group considers the introduction of a CGT as “likely to have (only) a minor impact on income inequality”.

“A material reduction in income inequality through the personal tax system would require broader income tax changes, including an increase in the top marginal tax rate,” the report states, adding that this was outside the group’s Terms of Reference – though quite why remains a mystery.

This in no way suggests that the introduction of CGT should not proceed – all 11 members unanimously agreed that such a tax should be introduced in some shape or form (the three minority members accepting that CGT should be introduced, but had qualms about complexity issues).

The report made a cogent and virtually unarguable case that it is absurdly unfair that income from capital gains is untaxed while all salary and wage income is taxed.

A tax system without a CGT “reduces the fairness of the system” as well as making it regressive because it benefits the wealthy who own the vast proportion of capital assets. This has the effect of “reducing the proportion of tax paid by the wealthiest members of our society”.

The absence of a CGT increased perceptions of unfairness in the tax system as well as reducing its integrity by creating opportunities for “tax minimisation” and avoidance.

The report’s analysis of our tax system highlights two important facts, which are not new, but are unequivocally laid out – that Aotearoa has one of the least progressive tax systems in the OECD and, partly as a result of that, we have one of the least equal societies among that club of wealthy nations.

An OECD 2014/15 graph in the report (Fig 3.3, pg 32) shows Aotearoa ranked eighth lowest among the 35 members in terms of reducing inequality via both taxes and transfers.

The report also notes Aotearoa has one of the lowest top marginal tax rates in the OECD and that high income earners pay only 31% of their total income in tax (and that excludes their tax-free capital gains), while the lowest quartile pay 23% of their income. That means someone on $200,000 would get $138,000 in the hand while someone on $40,000 would get $30,800.

However, suggesting higher taxes rates has become anathema to modern democracies because Right Wing, neoliberal lobby groups have been hugely successful, through the use of clever, emotional catch-cries like “nanny state” and “tax relief”, in arguing tax cuts are good for society.

If going to the electorate on a platform of introducing a CGT is assessed as fraught with risk, suggesting that there should be a higher marginal income tax rate might be deemed a death wish, despite it being clearly in the best interest of the vast majority of voters who would get better education, healthcare and welfare.

Similarly, if higher marginal rates are anathema, imagine what would happen to a government that re-introduced gift or estate duties. Yet these were the tools that in the past allowed us to have a more equal society that gave all a better, if not equal, opportunity. That equalising of opportunity allowed more people to achieve their potential and that, in turn, helped underpin Aotearoa’s economic strength.

I can already hear Amy-I-have-only-got-six-properties-not-eight-Adams screaming she has worked hard for her wealth. Still the question has to be asked: why should some people be given a huge advantage by having a wealthy parent?

Even with the modest proposals of the TWG, National and the Right have painted the TWG’s recommendations as a “monster” and “an attack on the Kiwi way of life”. This despite the report clearly stating that whichever package is adopted, it should aim to be essentially tax-neural – ie tax collected will be offset by personal income tax cuts for all.

In terms of reducing inequality, the report says that the best way to improve the lot of very low-income households is via welfare transfers – ie increasing benefits or family tax credits. To improve incomes for selected low and middle income groups, then changing tax rates is the better option.

The best way to increase the progressivity of personal income tax is to lift the tax-free threshold. Even without raising the top marginal rate, progressivity could be increased by increasing the second marginal rate paired with increases in the tax-free threshold, the report said. That would mean no increase in average tax rates for higher income earners.

That would seem a political non-starter because it would sock it to lower-middle income earners, the group that both Labour and National profess to appeal to.

In Australia, people pay a similar rate of tax as here until they earn $90,000. From $90,001 to $180,000 they pay 37% and on anything above that they pay 45%.

In the UK you pay 40% marginal tax from £46,351 to £150,000 and 45% on anything above that.

At the 2017 election the only party advocating a lift in marginal tax rates was the Green Party (disclosure: I worked for the Green’s last year and in 2014).  Their proposal was a 40% rate on income over $150,000 – quite modest compared with the UK and Australia.

The evidence from TWG report is clear – we have an unfair, regressive tax system that doesn’t address inequality or equal opportunity issues.

It would be great if Labour went to the electorate in 2020 with something akin to the Green’s 2017 proposal. But in light of the howls of outrage at even the proposed CGT, and Labour’s apparent reluctance to go hard on this, I’m not holding my breath.

(Simon Louisson reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and briefly was a political and media adviser to the Green Party.)

 

46 comments on “We need more than capital gains tax to address inequality”

  1. soddenleaf 1

    This is a battle between the1% and the 4%, the top and the bottom. Well that’s according to a farmer on Nat.radio. That he did want to pay for a few cents an hour increase to the 4%, given how he is not the 1% as he works a hard for ever 0% of not paying CAT. It’s real hard work watching capital appreciate.

    Where was he when Key increased GST raising taxes on 4% whose entire income goes buying things with GST, no room to appreciate the hard working capital gain of others.

  2. soddenleaf 2

    A CGT set at Zero incentivizes paying employees less, as shareholders maximize capital gain. Those employees leave for higher paying Australia where there is no such incentive. Then your farmers and others have a skill shortage. yeah, people telling them how unskilled they are at setting up themselves to have employee problems.

  3. vto 3

    Doesn’t addressing inequality need far more than tweaking the tax system??

    It needs to tweak minimum wage rates – up.

    It needs to abandon measures that impact the poor more – like cigarettes prices.

    It needs to address employment issues, so that working people have stronger rights and more pleasant lives e.g. proper holiday and break rules

    It needs to discourage the constant increase in capital values, which is encouraged by the banks to lend against of course.. duh. There is no benefit to high capital values. Lower capital values reduce the “rent” cost of everything, which positively impacts those on lower incomes.

    It needs to re-balance the chasing of cheats – $30 million by beneficiary cheats; yet $3,000 million by white collar tax cheats.

    All economic and other settings need adjusting so that more of the country’s wealth gets pushed down, rather than up. My own business, and I would suggest everyone else’s business, would do better if more wealth was pushed down rather than up. It simply = more buyers.

    Why can’t people see that a more equal society, with a very strong foundation of prosperous working people, makes for the best type of society and nation?

    I dont understand why people don’t see this – I think they imagine that with some large capital it is easy enough to escape to some place away from the working poor, but such a sentiment is so shallow and unworthy, and plain false, that I think it dried up before the first tide came in long ago.

  4. Ad 4

    The sharper political question is :

    “Is it still worth the government pursuing a Capital Gains Tax when better social equity and mobility gains are achieved by other policy means which also burn through less political capital?”

    I find it hard to be convinced of the “fairness” of a full new tax when we were promised the earth about GST two decades ago, and it just turned into a total government rort for themselves.

    • soddenleaf 4.1

      Fairness. Companies are worth more, so shares cost more, and owners sell out earlier. NZ has many problems, one being fewer smaller companies grow to become big ones. Farm families have to work far harder to buy the farm, as they cost more. Workers are carrying those who would have paid CGT, and so are enticed to oz where there is no incentive. Housing is oz is falling in price, it’ll take longer to happen here, and that means cost of housing is higher for longer. And then there is the fairness argument, is it fair the tax system advantages those with wealth with more wealth.
      How about the overseas experience? Would young NZ stay and build the nz economy rather than give their best to overseas companies, who are paying capital gains taxes?

      It’s absurd we have a 0% CGT.

      • Ad 4.1.1

        So now you can define “fairness”.
        The Tax Working Group failed to.
        The faster way to rebalance the tax system is through massive tax cuts to the poorer tax brackets. That is what the Greens have advocated, and I’d be pretty keen on it myself.

        This is more and more looking like another tax grab by the state, using undefined emotive words like “fairness” as a smokescreen for the IRD to establish another beach-head.

        • soddenleaf 4.1.1.1

          Tax grab you say, though it’s only impacts those with massive wealth who have been clipping unproductive capital gains growth because their private tax grab underwritten by massive political support to anti CGT politicians. Your tax grab is somebodies incentive to privately tax the other 99% from capital value inflation. My house costs more, my living costs cost more as the owners need to pay more for their homes, the spiral effects of private taxes are exactly the same as higher govt taxes, well worse we look richer but are mostly all poorer while wealth gets wealth from wealth without any productive growth. In fact depressed productivity as skilled workers are forced overseas to earn enough to buy into your ponsi tax grab for the few, a 0% CGT. It’s a rort and everyone who doesn’t think so is deluded.

  5. cleangreen 5

    Ad.

    Some tax money needs to be funneled into better lives for residential communities also as everyone pays taxes and deserves some relief and equality.

    The Labour lead Government needs to make all our lives better’ but we see now that in Cities in NZ urban areas, where ‘heavy traffic’ noise, vibrations, and air pollution are presently destroying the lives of residents alongside those ‘roads to hell, all we see is that is where low income people are being housed and the more affluent communities are saved from 24/7 traffic noise,vibrations, and air pollution,.

    So we are getting like we saw in America, now, with slums appearing in “undesirable” areas of our cities where high traffic flows are and heavy noise and pollution exist.

    But Europe has done very well to make their residential areas safe, healthier areas with a much higher amenity valued comfortable places to live.

    These are some of their mitigation measures;

    * ban diesel engines from any city residential areas now.
    * have strict testing of exhaust systems and exhaust air quality emissions..
    *provide noise barriers and vegetation to soak up any remaining air pollution.
    *Lower the road speeds through residential areas.
    *Place quiet residential signs on those roads.

    • Ad 5.1

      Seriously this is a tax discussion.
      At least try.

    • timeforacupoftea 5.2

      *from next week under 25 year olds can only buy and drive electric cars and trucks.

      Saves under 25 year olds paying tax on fuel and they can save the planet for the wee buzzy bee’s they breed etc.

      I am really keen on a transaction tax of around 2% = No GST, No Income Tax, virtually no IRD, no accountants, no cash – only card transactions,

  6. Sabine 6

    on thing we could discuss and maybe should,

    is helping people to work for themselves.
    Why do we not have more business creation, and not big business, but true small mom and pop businesses?

    Maybe it has to do with the commercial leases that are just way way out of reach for anyone. Maybe it has to do with the compliance costs that are easier absorbed by a multi nationals rather then a small local shop. maybe it has to do with how we collect taxes on businesses. Maybe it has to do with the fact that government offers absolutely no help to anyone who wants to create a business if it is below a certain size and involves more then just some payment from winz to buy a van if one can even get that help.

    Maybe we should just all admit that we don’t actually want to pay our way. We just want to use the roads, the schools, the hospitals but don’t want to pay for the upkeep of any of it. Maybe we should just admit that we like voluntary firefighters, voluntary ambulance drivers, voluntary this and voluntary that, bakes sales here and there – but only in a commercial kitchen at a cost – so that we , us hard done by individuals, don’t have to lift a finger or the purse and pay our way.

    maybe a CGT is exactly the thing to do to start taxing those that would rather free load on the back of the minimum wage earner who has no lobby to lobby for him/her.

    • beautox 6.1

      The lack of a CGT is an incentive to business creation. Putting one in place is really not going to help this..

      Also many Mom and Pop businesses use the family home to run their business, and can thus claim some (quite legitimate) tax expenses. However the proposed CGT appears to affect this arrangement, which will also act as disincentive to business creation, especially the small kind. It should be noted that virtually all businesses start small.

      On a related matter, shouldn’t we be applying CGT to lotto wins? One moment this ticket is worth a couple bucks, next minute it’s worth hundreds of thousands, with no labour requited. That sounds exactly like the kind of capital gains folks hate…

      • soddenleaf 6.1.1

        Nz companies may start quickly yet they don’t grow big, as a CGT helps owners sell up earlier, and forces many overseas to earn as Cgt incentivizes low wages.

  7. David Mac 7

    Lasting and bipartisan equality will come via refining our talents and fine tuning opportunity.

    The opportunity to go from shop floor to boardroom. The opportunity for gifted lads from the provinces to attend prestigious schools. Shane Jones has the right theme…but geee….the prospect of leaping out of bed to plant 800 seedlings on a mountain-side is not pushing my hot buttons. It needs some opportunity, a future embroidered in. Plant for 2 weeks and then study for 2 weeks in the field or get work experience with a forestry processing gang., driving with an owner/driver log hauler. A future, some opportunity, a worthwhile reason to show up and apply ourselves.

  8. Pat 8

    Sadly in a global economy our tax rates are determined offshore…we are so tied to globalisation (and we are not alone) that to move on wealth/inheritance tax ( crucial to redressing inequality) would create capital flight….some may say so what, but depending on how intense it is it may be an issue.

    • soddenleaf 8.1

      Capital flight. But what about bigger companies that will result as owners can’t sellout so early. How about less young flying overseas coz the tax system favors the already wealthy, so they need to get rich growing another countries GDP. How about the productivity crisis that caused by lower wages as owners concentrate on cracking down on wages, or the skill shortage as staff work for leaner companies in oz where they have to pay for more productivity to stay viable.

      • Pat 8.1.1

        There are potential positive and negative outcomes to the implementation of wealth taxes, or even highly progressive taxation but it must be accepted that the short term impact is highly likely to be very negative, especially in the absence of capital controls….it would be a very brave politician (and probably short lived) that made the attempt.

        It is difficult to be contrarian from a position of weakness.

        • soddenleaf 8.1.1.1

          It’s weak to backup claims of negative impacts since doing so would inevitably fall flat. A CGT will not impact for years as assets are assessed at inception and so any conservative economist knows no profit no capital gain. So if their were negatives like masses extra tax bills from say house prices appreciation in the immediate after mouth the extra wealth… …yeah like our homes are set for windfall house price growth. And, you’ll note how I argue existing companies are over value due to the artificial incentuve of a 0% CGT that out competitor aren’t paying and invite owners to target CGs. Seriously are you suggesting that high wages general would hurt your business model?

          • Pat 8.1.1.1.1

            Read what I wrote and perhaps you will understand your reply is completely off topic

            • soddenleaf 8.1.1.1.1.1

              We will be almost the last nation to introduce a CGT. We are supposed to trust you that it would be so adverse. Your position is naive at best.

              • Pat

                Oh dear…i never mentioned CGT…CGT is at the margins,,,you work yourself up for little…and even with opportunity miss the point.

                • soddenleaf

                  So your point is that a CGT has nothing to do with the current debate over “wealth/inheritance taxes”, are you serious? Capital flight is likely? didn’t happen when a CGT was introduced elsewhere, and as our tax rates carry a risk premium due to the 0% CGT, as asset values are higher, the statement that our tax rates are set overseas is ludicrous.

  9. arkie 9

    How about lifting the tax threshold to the minimum wage; ramp up the tax rates to compensate; index them all to inflation; the question would be how and to what level a negative tax/UBI is paid.

    • SPC 9.1

      If the intent is to help those on lower incomes, one brings in a low income earner rebate (which is why one should retain a lowish c10 cent rate)

      Sure take the lower threshold (10.5 to 10 cents cents) “towards” the MW ($20 an hour/$40,000) as CGT revenue grows – this allows workers to share in the tax cut equally.

      Rather than inflation adjust the current thresholds, I think we can improve on current settings.

      1. 10 cents to $24,000*/30,000**
      2. 20 cents to $48,000 ($220* to $820** less tax per annum on $48,000)
      3. Declare an intent to reduce the over $48,000 (c$24 an hour and will one day be MW) tax rate down to the company tax rate of 28 cents (currently 30cents to $70,000).
      4. Apply the 30 cents rate $70,000 to $100,000.
      5. Lift the top rate from 33 to 35 cents and apply over $100,000 (might make the lift in top threshold from $70,000 tax nuetral).

      • arkie 9.1.1

        People on low incomes pay consumption tax at a higher proportion, unless we get rid of GST removing other tax burdens on everyone up to the minimum wage. This is better than using a CGT to try and redistribute.

  10. David Mac 10

    Apparently, when you’re rich enough to buy anything you want the numbers just become a scoreboard.

    Lets create a transparent scoreboard for them, a no BS measure of the good they do for our society in return for their lavish nourishment.

    Publish the personal tax liability of wealthy people. Rather than sliding envelopes under the table to Simon they can contribute to our country in a public holistic manner. Let them outdo each other and foster gossip with their media quoted IRD chits.

    The Aston guy that paid $10 tax last year…he deserves all he has coming.

    Make paying tax a sign of success, the done thing amongst those that really care.

    I wish I was paying a million in tax a year…

    • bwaghorn 10.1

      Fuck yes I would love to be in the top tax bracket

    • Ian 10.2

      political donations are not tax deductable .. Paying tax is a sign of success.Get off your arse and rather than making a wish,lets Do It .

      • tc 10.2.1

        If paying taxes is a sign of success then why do the wealthy avoid it like the plague ?

      • left_forward 10.2.2

        Some people are genuinely disdvantaged Ian… ‘getting off one’s arse’ is always a pre-requisite (with the exception of property traders!), but for many people this in itself does not guarantee success in our currently inequitable economic environment.

        Success for all depends on the way we as a collective society set social policy and arrange incentives and taxes. Hence why CBT is an important first step, so those rich pricks who don’t get off their arses, make tons of money out of property trading and don’t pay taxes, are finally made to contribute, alongside the lowly waged who are contributing so much more tax (proportionally to their income) in sharp contrast.

        After CBT must come significantly higher tax contributions in the higher wage brackets (I am included in this group and will be happy to contribute more).

  11. prometheus 11

    The Capital gains tax proposals as they are exempting family homes will have an interesting effect : the provincial new zealand will wind up subsidising Auckland house owners.
    The retirement commissioner wants us to save for our retirement, suggesting a couple have assets of $1 million when retiring.
    Consider two very similar houses say an older villa, one in Invercargill you can buy for around $200,000 bought by a tradesman with a small morgage to pay off.
    the near identical house in Auckland will cost you $800,000. a similar tradesman buys it with a huge mortgage to pay off. Assuming they both had similar savings to start with. Both work and pay off their mortgage aiming to retire with that million dollar goal.
    The Invercargill owner will pay off the mortgage quickly and put further savings into shares, property, investment trusts etc. to achieve his million.
    The Aucklander only has to pay off the morgage. He can sell and take his million and retire to a lower cost area.
    The Invercargill owner might move to a warmer climate but he will have to pay capital gains tax of 30% on any gain on his investments , if he liquidates his holdings.
    We should either include all property or have an exemption for say the first million for a couple or half that for an individual.

  12. Macro 12

    It would be great if Labour went to the electorate in 2020 with something akin to the Green’s 2017 proposal. But in light of the howls of outrage at even the proposed CGT, and Labour’s apparent reluctance to go hard on this, I’m not holding my breath.

    My hope as well, but I’m not holding my breath either.

  13. chruskl 13

    According to wikipedia, big earners in NZ pay lower income tax rates than in any other OECD country except Singapore:

    NZ 33%
    Australia 47%
    Austria 55%
    Belgium 50%
    Canadia 59%
    Denmark 56%
    Finland 54%
    France 49%
    Germany 48%
    Iceland 46%
    Ireland 52%
    Israel 50%
    Japan 56%
    Netherlands 52%
    Norway 39%
    Singapore 22%
    Slovenia 50%
    South Korea 42%
    Spain 45%
    Sweden 57%
    Taiwan 40%
    UK 47%
    US 50%

    Please explain, Jacinda.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_rates

    • Wayne 13.1

      The nominal top marginal rates only tell a portion of the story, in fact not even the major part.

      A better measure is the percentage of the economy that is paid in tax. In NZ that is about 30%, but in the US it is around 20%. The reason for the difference is the enormous number of deductions available in the US, so almost no-one actually pays 50%. Whereas in NZ most people on higher incomes do pay 33% marginal rate.

      The NZ tax system is internationally notable for its overall simplicity and the tight controls on the amount of deductions available.

      • chruskl 13.1.1

        Is that so? You seem keen to focus on comparisons with the US, but why don’t you tell us about Germany, Sweden and other high-performance European countries with lower levels of inequality than NZ? Are high earners able to get out of paying tax so easily in those countries?

        • tc 13.1.1.1

          Note Wayne leaves out Aus…..y’know the one his govt was sooo keen to catch up with.

          The country with a cgt and restrictions on foreigners ownership of residential property to name just 2. Distraction and diversion .

          • Wayne 13.1.1.1.1

            tc

            Australia gets less tax than NZ as a percentage of GDP. There are more exemptions in their tax system than in NZ. Also they are slightly worse on inequality than NZ, so their tax system is not the answer.

            Chruski,

            The Scandinavians do tax more than NZ and have lower inequality. It is entirely up to the government (actually Labour) whether it wants to campaign on that basis.

            • chruskl 13.1.1.1.1.1

              Australia is worse on inequality than NZ? What’s your evidence for that, Wayne?

              Here’s the GINI coefficient for the two countries, according to the CIA: (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html)

              NZ 36.0 (putting us in between El Salvador and Benin)
              Australia 30.3 (same as the Netherlands)

              So you were saying …?

              • Wayne

                Pretty old data there.

                The OECD (2016) has NZ at 0.35 (measured in 2014), and Australia at 0.33 (measured in 2016). I don’t tend to link, but I got the data from a 2016 OECD report, which will be way more accurate than the CIA fact book. As soon as you see a figure of 0.36 and 0.30 you know it is not accurate. The two countries are simply not that different.

                Admittedly it does show NZ more unequal than Australia, but basically the two countries seem to have a similar spread of wealth and income when you visit, which I do regularly. Though overall NZ is clearly less well off than Aus, which is evident at every single level. About 25 to 30% less.

                • chruskl

                  Ah, so irrespective of which data we look at, we’re faced with the evidence that Australia does NOT have higher inequality than NZ – both sources show the opposite, in fact.

                  Thanks for pointing out how old the CIA data were (didn’t notice that!).

      • Sabine 13.1.2

        its not simple our tax system – well that is a way of putting it. It is lacking in transparency and ordinary workers can’t even write of their cost of transport to and from work. but you and Gareth Morgan surely have quite a few things to deduct. 🙂

        I would very much like to see how the tax costs for the individual items are

        unemployment tax
        sickness benefit
        retirement tax
        acc levy
        income tax

        right now all of that is hidden under ‘income tax’ – very convenient for men like yourself and those that don’t want people to understand that literally all and any benefits are prepaid services. I.e. anyone who works and pays taxes has a right to certain benefits should they come into need. And if people were to understand that they pay for their unemployment benefits and their sickness benefits then the goons in your party might have to shut up about the ‘useless beneficiaries’ that are bludging off the government as the ‘bludger’ would know that they only receive what they have prepaid. But then what would your conservative posse have left in order to gain traction? Nothing really.

  14. UncookedSelachimorpha 14

    I think a Minister for Egalitarianism (or similar, better name) would be a great idea. This ministry could regularly research and publicise statistics on inequality, social mobility etc, and assist developing policy. Plus, reducing inequality should be a stated goal of government.

    Making ‘reducing inequality’ an actual goal is the first step to getting somewhere.

    • Dennis Frank 14.1

      Yes, I agree that reducing inequality ought to be a strategic goal for government. Labour is unconvincing around this, but to be fair they aren’t in control.

      I also agree with financial transactions taxation. Add in the long-term Green prioritisation of pollution taxes. We just need total reform. Reduced income taxation of employees, taxation design based on appropriate behavioural incentivisation…

  15. Pat 15

    Oh dear…i never mentioned CGT..and CGT was specifically excluded from this thread..

    “We need more than capital gains tax to address inequality”

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