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Yet more dodgy Nat numbers

Written By: - Date published: 6:56 pm, July 18th, 2011 - 61 comments
Categories: benefits, bill english, dpf, making shit up, national, tax - Tags:

If you’re a blogosphere regular, you’ll have noticed that recently every monkey with a copy of The Fountainhead and a crush on John Key has been spouting the line that the top 10% of taxpayers pay 71% of net tax. Sounds incredible, eh? That’s because it’s not credible. It’s more cheap numbers tricks from the Nats.

Over at Pundit, Rob Salmond has explained the trick. I’ll take the highlights of his post.

It all starts with Bill English’s table, let’s assume these basic numbers are right, although English hasn’t released his source data:

Net tax is the tax people pay minus benefits and tax credits like Working For Families that they get. This is where the 71% figure comes from. The top 9.7% paying $7.8 billion of net tax, which is 70.7% of the $11 billion total net tax. But wait:

Families earning over $150,000 paid net $7.8 billion. English and Farrar say that is 71% of the total. But when you use the same table and add up the amounts paid by families that earn above $80,000 but below $150,000, you find that those families also contribute a further net $7.6 billion, which is also around 70% of the total net tax.

What?! How the hell can two separate groups of families each pay 70% of the net tax?

The way English and Farrar put together this illusion is to assume that most of the “net tax paid” by middle-income families is not actually paid into “net tax.” Instead, it is put in a separate pool – “money for paying welfare transfers to net tax recipients.” Why use only middle class net taxes for this pool? Never mind why! Only when the “money for paying welfare transfers to net tax recipients” pool is full does “net tax paid” actually start paying towards “net tax.”

So, this is the trick: English and Farrar have offset the benefit transfers that the poorest families get against the net tax that middle income families pay. If you look it in graphical form, they’ve used the little black bars to fill in the red hole leaving the big black bar untouched:

Conveniently, that leaves nearly all the remaining tax being paid by the wealthy. But why do it that way, shouldn’t you just spread the cost of the transfers equally? Of course you should. Salmond points out one of the stupid results of English/Farrar’s magic numbers:

The list of silly conclusions that flow from their calculations is long. For example, under the English/Farrar counting rules, high-income families contribute absolutely nothing, not one cent, towards helping the needy with Working for Families payments, the DPB, or unemployment benefits. This is because their $7.8 billion goes into the “net tax” pool rather than the “paying for welfare transfers to net tax recipients” pool. That is, of course, an idiotic conclusion that is unfair to top-income earners, whose taxes do a great deal to support welfare programs.

It doesn’t make any sense to put all the benefit payments on to the middle incomes. If you and me pay $1000 each in tax and education is 10% of the budget, and we want to know what percentage of your tax went on defence spending, we wouldn’t pretend all my money had paid for other stuff, and say that you are paying for 100% of the education budget.

Salmond corrects English/Farrar’s numbers:

The correct way to calculate the percentage is to divide a group’s net contribution by the total of all net contributions. Correcting for this error in arithmetic, the net income tax contribution of $150,000+ households falls from 71% to 46%.

Salmond then points out that benefits aren’t funded entirely by income tax, there’s also other taxes like GST, which is regressive:


Using these more complete figures, the proportion of net tax paid by $150,000+ households drops further to 43%, a far cry from the 71% touted by English and Farrar.

But isn’t it still unfair that 10% of people by 43% of net tax?

To answer that, we need to remember that this is not some random slice of New Zealand families. This is the 10% with the highest incomes. That slice of New Zealand also has a lot in common with the richest 10% in terms of net wealth. What do we know about them?

  • The 10% of top income-earning families earn 30% of the income. (Estimate from Stats NZ’s Household Economic Survey 2010)
  • The wealthiest 10% of New Zealand families control roughly 50-60% of the wealth (Estimates from New Zealand Institute’s The Wealth of a Nation 2004)

This group earns 30% of the income, has 50% or more of the wealth, and pays 43% of the net tax. Is that an outrage?

I don’t think so. Even under a libertarian flat tax regime, this group would pay 30% of the tax. And our country is not a bunch of flat tax libertarians. We have always embraced progressive taxation, and been willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.

We have always known that when you help out people in need, other people pay more than their income share to fund it all.

The fortunate few paying 1.4 times their income share in tax is worthy of everyone’s gratitude. But it does not seem at all an unreasonable burden.

So, there we have it. More dodgy Nat numbers comprehensively demolished.

But I think we need to remember what is behind the dodgy numbers in the first place.

The Nats are desperately looking for an excuse as to why the highest 2% of earners shouldn’t have to go back to paying the 39% rate that they managed to pay for 9 years on income over the “stratospheric” threshold of $150,000 and why people making tax-free capital gains should still be subsidised by the rest of us. And the best they can come up with is ‘pity the poor rich guy’ and some drummed up numbers. Pitiful.

61 comments on “Yet more dodgy Nat numbers”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    This group earns 30% of the income, has 50% or more of the wealth, and pays 43% of the net tax. Is that an outrage?

    And yet only pays 43% of the taxes. Yep, seriously under taxed.

    • Chris 1.1

      As Colonial Viper alluded to the 10% who earn the highest income are not the same group as the wealthiest 10%.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Oh and by the way, a fuckload of NZ’s richest people (including many farmers) have an “annual taxable household income” of less than $50,000 p.a.

    They are hidden in the table above, they are in essence our wealthy upperclass bludgers with community services cards, who receive WFF and whose kids get student allowances no questions asked.

    These truly wealthy upperclass bludgers who have structured their affairs to be maximally ‘tax efficient’ should be the ones slammed by a significant CGT and asset tax.

    • How many of them are there CV?

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        I’ll take a look and let you know.

        • Secret Squirrel

          Do you think there are as many as all the benefit bludgers out there? They should be as easy for you to count.

          • Colonial Viper

            Dude, what makes you think that the group consisting of wealthy upperclass bludgers and the group consisting of benefit bludgers are completely different people?

            You’re a frakking amoral ACT astroturfer.

          • bbfloyd

            i’d bet my house that there’s more well off bludgers out there than than the ones you so enjoy insulting squirrel. i’ve known a quite a few in my time.

            you already know all the justifications used. chances are. you’ve used one or two yourself no doubt, so i won’t waste time explaining them.

          • Deadly_NZ

            Listen SS Pete or what ever. It has just been pointed out to you in NO uncertain terms that the biggest benefit bludgers are the wankers that hide all their wealth and collect WWF and have a community card, all whilst getting record payments from Fonterra. And these thieving fucking bludgers are so proud of the fact, and even boast that they rip off the system for millions by hiding assets and cash. So, SS, Pete or what ever you are. I’ll just name you BLUDGER just like your fucking mates. .

          • Secret Squirrel

            The point being, over a few conclusion jumping heads here, is that no one will quantify how many tax avoiders or dole bludgers or or GST avoiders or “sickness” loafers there are, so they exaggerate the hell out it.

            Claiming fuckloads of anything is meaningless unless you can back it up with facts. But facts would get in the way of blanket abuse.

            • Lazy Susan

              The facts of Eddie’s post are that the English has used dodgy numbers and is lieing again. Are you concerned about that SS?

              • You can choose Eddie’s post as gospel if you like, I’m not. Depends on what religion you belong to.

                The fact is that those numbers and calculations are being disputed all over the internet, and I suspect Eddie’s post is potentially as dodgy as everyone else’s. Confusing arguments over confusing numbers.

                I’m not jumping on anyone’s side, I’ll wait and see a bit more impartial analysis. Keith Ng seems to have a reasonable idea of it, and he’s clarified a few things for me.

                • Lazy Susan

                  I see a squirrel sitting on the fence again. Could you post a link to Keith Ng’s analysis?

                  • You mean not jumping to partisan conclusions.


                    More analysis, argumenmts and followup by Keith here:

                    • Lazy Susan

                      Keith Ng’s blog does not refer to English’s numbers – it’s about comparing Joyce’s and Cunliffe’s debt repayment figures. A relevant link would be more useful.

                      Did you even read Eddie’s post? They are English’s own figures he is using – not Eddie’s!

                    • lprent []

                      Did you even read Eddie’s post? They are English’s own figures he is using – not Eddie’s!


                      And he assumed that English used accurate figures – which I think is a rather generous assumption – in particular confluting household incomes when all tax is collected as individuals is very very suspect.

                      Effectively he was saying that households with more than one person working pay more tax in total – well duh! That could be a household with 6 flatmates on low wages to my household with 2 people on good salaries to a single person earning quite a lot.

                      Pete of course tends to suck these bullshit figures up without engaging his brain, and relies on other “authorities” to refute them. The kind of person you really want to not go on jury duty….

                    • felix

                      Distract, derail, lie, squirm, ignore, deny, run away.

                      Just another morning in the life of Pete George, apologist.

                    • Ok, sorry, wrong table of numbers, there’s a few being argued over that the moment. The English table points to the problem Rob and Eddie have with maths.

                      What?! How the hell can two separate groups of families each pay 70% of the net tax?

                      That’s quite easy and is the crux of this argument.

                      Take Nett Tax of $100m:
                      Group A pays $70m which is 70% of nett tax.
                      Group B pays $70m which is 70% of nett tax.
                      The total they pay is $140m which is gross tax, A and B pay 50% each.
                      Group C gets $40m in tax credits, leaving $100m nett tax.

                      If you accept that maths then what’s the problem?

                    • Lazy Susan

                      Group A and B both both pay 70% of net tax and you still can’t see a problem with English’s figures?

                    • felix

                      If you accept that maths then you’re a liar or a moron Pete. Or in your case possibly both.

                    • LS – are you talking about something else about English’s figures?
                      Or are you referring to both paying 70% of nett tax?

                    • Colonial Viper

                      s.s. you don’t recognise when someone is playing you for a fool with a numbers shifting game?

                      OR are you being deliberately obtuse and helping them?

                    • Who’s playing the numbers game? Who’s post?

                      You can keep arguing about numbers like this as much as you like, but it’s a sideshow trying to prove the otther side wrong and incompetent. It’s as pathetic as felix.

                      It doesn’t change the facts – a relatively few people pay the bulk of income tax, and quite a lot of people pay no nett tax, many of whom are nett recipients of tax.

                      That makes “paying a fair amount of tax” a nonsense claim. We should accept that some people need state/tax money, but shouldn’t fool ourselves that it’s everyone paying their fair share of tax.

                    • lprent []

                      The point of the post was that Bill English and DPF were deliberately lying about their numbers to get a nice sounding meme “10% of taxpayers pay 71% of tax” – which is obvious bullshit.

                      There were a pile of dumb-arses (you maybe) who were stupid enough to believe that crap. Even a brief scan of this site sees this idiotic crap being swallowed whole at the sewer and regurgitated here. Eventually a number of people got around to pointing out to the idiots how stupid they are.

                      The biggest group not paying their “fair share” is in fact in the group with the highest incomes because they have the highest ability to hide form taxes. That is what the CGT and other tax changes will eventually get around to fixing. Eventually that will reduce the tax load on PAYE and GST over the decades.

                      And of course we’ll lose a few parasites offshore – I’ll wave them goodbye. It has been a pain over the past decades looking at them stuffing assets into family trusts and property speculation to avoid paying their fair share, whilst I’m trying to run a productive business. You’re going to be amazed how many people in the productive sectors of the economy are going to be happy to see them disappear…

                    • Pascal's bookie

                      100% of the country pays 100% of the Net tax, whoopdedoop.

                      The whole way of looking at it is mentalism, which would be the point of the post ss.

                    • Lazy Susan

                      Who’s playing the numbers game? Who’s post?

                      Wake up – the post was in response to English’s fucked up numbers. You accuse me of being partisan and then proceed to defend his stupid maths. In the context of a debate about fair taxation English’s analysis is a piece of shit and if you can’t see it I can’t help you.

      • McFlock 2.1.2

        A fuckload. That’s a unit of measurement approximately 1 “a bit off” to the power of 5, also roughly equivalent to 1/16 of a “No. Fucking. Way.” 
        True, a qualitative measurement, but communicative nonetheless.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.3

        Too many.

  3. Ianupnorth 3

    To SS – Troll, troll go away, never comeback another day!

  4. djg 4

    How will the CGT as proposed change this?
    Aren’t these same people the art owners/traders, the boat owners, but these are all excluded.

    Why has Labour made these exclusions?

    • Bright Red 4.1

      It’s the practice in other countries, and with good reason.

      Boats, like cars, are depreciating assets. Covering them with cgt would mean every boat owner could claim a tax credit when selling.

      collectibles aren’t covered because of the complexity of covering them.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        Boats, like cars, are depreciating assets. Covering them with cgt would mean every boat owner could claim a tax credit when selling.

        Sounds exactly like the kind of CGT National would bring in. Seriously.

      • Dan 4.1.2

        “collectibles aren’t covered because of the complexity of covering them.”

        and because the champagne socialist, liberal art crowd largely vote Labour

        • Colonial Viper

          Yeah, so? Who asked you to pitch your tent in with a bunch of over-hyped uncultured commerce and finance grads?

          • lprent

            Hey. Your host is a MBA grad, admitably with almost zero interest in the arts (apart from programming). But I did have the good taste to partner up with an arts grad who does. We argue functionality vs asthetics often (and I do that at work a lot as well).

            She isn’t particularly into politics and votes on a basis that I find ‘interesting’ but largely arises out of direct harsh experience of being in her 20’s in the 90’s. I am into politics – and it has nothing to do with liberal arts – but a hell of a lot to do with business theory as well as practice. Almost the reverse of the stereotypes you two are sprouting.

            Based on his comment (can’t remember noticing him before) Dan can best described as a ignorant troll who depends rather too much on stereotypes – probably because his brain can’t handle anything more complicated. Eventually he will attract my attention whilst moderating. But feeding the trolls with similar stereotypes is also stupid IMHO – perhaps you should desist….

            But BR is exactly correct about both types of asset. I can just taste the scams that would be possible with a CGT on collectibles.

  5. Lanthanide 5

    This 71% number never really passed the sniff test, I don’t think.

    Good to see a nice demonstration on why it’s so off.

    The graph showing taxes paid in both income and GST, is missing some other regressive taxes: tobacco, alcohol and fuel excise. I’m sure there are some others, too.

    • jackal 5.1

      Certainly makes David Farrar and Bill English look dodgy. It will be interesting to see if they can trick enough people into believing false information, or if it will backfire.

      • Lanthanide 5.1.1

        It’ll definitely work. That’s the problem with these stats, they can simply put them out there and the useful idiots will lap them up.

        Even when presented with the real numbers and why the original ones were wrong, very few will be distrustful of those that lied to them in the first place; some will continue to believe the fake numbers and the rest will just shake it off like water on a ducks back and forget about it.

  6. Policy Parrot 6

    Is it fair to say that “fisk” is now considered a proper word? Have to ask Oxford Dictionary.

    fisk (adj). “A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual..

    UPDATE: HT Wikipedia.

  7. tc 7

    I think it’s a badge of honor that the standard should wear with pride to have so many NACT trolls doing their idols bidding in varied attemps to derail the fact driven arguments.

    Love the way sideshow explains the bad inflation numbers as not really bad as he reckons GST rise doesn’t count……pity about those who didn’t get a fax tax break curtesy of more overseas loans. Ah banker logic….a brighter foreign owned future.

  8. Peter 8

    I’m looking forward to Mr Farrar’s response to this post.

      • crashcart 8.1.1

        The fact you are linking to a post where someone claims that NAT don’t plan asset sales but asset renewals because aparently power companies are “Old worn out assets”. Holy jesus I have never seen anything dumber. With the increasing energy needs he thinks that an energy company is old and worn out.

        Kiwi blog is candy for your brain…it will rot it.

      • felix 8.1.2

        Pete George posts links to discussions on a completely irrelevant topic. Twice.

        He really, really, really, doesn’t want anyone to discuss the topic of the post.

        • Secret Squirrel

          What have you discussed about the topic felix? As usual nothing but niggle.

          • felix

            I accept the premise of the post. The numbers prove the assertions.

            English and Farrar are full of shit.

            I surmise that you also accept the premise of the post and that’s why you’re so desperate not to mention it.

            Would you consider I’d made more of a contribution if I were to post some pictures of my cats? Or some other random link perhaps?

          • Pascal's bookie

            SS, even though your links are completely off topic, I had a look. This tells you pretty much all you need to know about farahrah’s analysis:

            Anti-avoidance. Labour have just invented a figure of $300m a year from greater anti-avoidance work. Now this is pie in the sky. If Labour announced actual law changes to reduce avoidance, then maybe you can estimate revenue changes. But this is the equivalent of “I hope it happens”. Keith Ng is right that it is probably not realistic to say Labour will not be able to get any extra revenue at all, but when you consider most experts are saying their tax package will make the tax system more complicated, I think avoidance will increase not decrease. In the absence of any specifics around anti-avoidance measures, I think you go with zero.

            To show that labour will raise zero from clamping down on tax avoidence, Farahrah says that there will be much more avoidance and we should assume labour won’t do anything about it. Even though they said they will be aggressively going after it. That’s the sort of number crunching you think evryone should treat with respect and scratych their beards about and fail to draw any conclusions from.

            He explicitly says that it is not realistic to assume labour will get zero, then, in the very next sentence, says ‘go with zero’.

            Off you fuck.

  9. Peter 9

    Time for a dumb question, no doubt at my expense.

    How is it that the households earning 160000 plus go from paying 37% of the gross tax to 70.7% of the net tax?

    • Dan 9.1

      It depends on where you offset the negative net taxpayers, basically.

      The only way to effectively evaluate this data is to then break down these income brackets by the contributions they make in each tax bracket, until you’re left with zeroed net total taxation, and each dollar taxed after that point results in a marginal tax gain. These tables are effectively useless.

      • Peter 9.1.1

        Thanks, so is it possible to get the data you would need? I believe it’s important for people to understand how this all works.

      • lprent 9.1.2

        Yep, I’d agree.Talk to Bill English – those are his tables.

        The thing I really dislike is looking at household incomes when that could be everything from villa full of burger flippers to a household with one income earner. Aggregating tax paid as individuals to a household level without further breakdown is moronic.

        But I have come to expect that from Bill English when he feeds junk numbers out through DPF.

    • Bright Red 9.2

      they don’t.

      what English/Farrar have done is pretend that all the benefit and tax credits are paid for out of income tax, and then got a net (income tax minus benefits/tax credtis) number, which is $10,970m. Then they’ve said, what is the income tax minus benefits/tax credits just for the richest 9.7%, and the answer is $7,758m. Then they’ve said what’s $7,758m as a percentage of $10,970m – it’s 70.7%, and concluded that the richest 10% pay 71% of net tax.

      They don’t though because you’ll notice that incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 pay a total of 83.8% of net tax. Obviously that can’t be right. You can’t have more than 100% of net tax.

      The explanation is that households with incomes alone below $50,000 pay negative net tax, equal to 54.5% of the total net tax for all incomes.

      English/Farrar have offset that 54.5% against the net tax contribution of the middle incomes reducing their net tax contribution to 29.3% and leaving the richest 10% apparently paying 70.3% of net tax but not paying a cent towards the social welfare system.

      It’s just trickery, deceptive numbers games from a party that has nothing better to offer.

      • Peter 9.2.1

        Appreciate the time you have taken, I now understand.

      • Colonial Viper 9.2.2

        Now I hope that every economist, bank executive and financial commentator in this country, reads your post.

        Because it will put another hole in the credibility of this National led Govt.

  10. mik e 10

    They are looking for a lot of new talent at fox right now Farrar ,Hootton and Joyce would be prime candidates as Mc Cully is getting past it .The news media manipulation in this country needs to be examined closely as well .When you see TV3 radio works getting a $48million rescue and their radio stations giving John Key a free platform and most of the interviews are just party political propaganda patsy question asking by sympathetic broadcasters I wouldn,t call them Journalists. The last election ordinary DJs were particularly brutal on Labour and Clark in other words a dirty campaign this must not happen or be aloud to happen we need to expose these Nixon Murdoch under hand style tactics

  11. randal 11

    ayn rand is a flaming nuisance. another person who has no idea how the goods of the world are made nor who does it. just another greedy wanting to accumulate money so they can go out and get noticed by the amount of things they possess. similar to most tories.

  12. wawot 12

    Well done – I pointed this out days ago in the DPF blog and wondered how long it would take yous to figure it out.

    They simply called 97 out of 154.5 etc. a percentage etc. whereas a percentage is by definition out of 100. 97 as a percentage of 154.5 is 63%.

  13. Ed 13

    It should be reasonably easy to give a table (and bar charts) that exclude none, one or both of benefit payments and WFF tax rebates – there are different arguments for the inclusion or exclusion of each. GST may be difficult to apportion between income groups, but it should be possible to use some reasonable assumptions regarding the proportion of income used for GST liable purchases.

    Benefits are of course paid wholly from corporate taxes (it is at least as logical as apportioning it to income bands), but WFF is clearly a tax rebate. The net tax should obviously include company taxes, but perhaps there is an argument that most other taxes are fairly attributable to other government expenditure – eg taxes on alcohol and cigarettes are ‘allocated’ to health spending, etc. There seems little reason not to include corporate taxes as a separate bar though – they are taxpaying entities whose tax supports our social welfare payments. Where do taxes paid by trusts appear?

    Any tables released by government should have attached to them the sources of any data, and any significant assumptions made. It would be good if The Standard set an example by doing that as well – while that has been done in this cae it would also be good if someone has written an OIA request for the source.

    • Peter 13.1

      Here is a late night attempt to provide a different ballpark perspective. Apologies for the rough presentation and the mix of budgeted and actual data. Information comes from:


      Ministry of Social Development payments – 2010 ($ millions)

      Unemployment Benefits 1,063,884
      Independent Youth Benefit 20,095
      Sickness Benefits 837,330
      Invalid’s Benefit 1,396,520
      Domestic Purposes Benefits 1,961,841
      Widow’s Benefit 76,899
      Unsupport-ed Child’s Benefit and Orphan’s Benefits 101,434
      NZ Super-annuation 8,544,678
      Veteran’s Pension 161,957
      Total MSD payments 14,164,638 ($Billion 14.16)

      To get a perspective of income flowing into government here are the indicative Treasury Budget 2012 Income figures in is $Billions.

      Income Tax 24.3
      GST 15
      Company Tax 8.1
      Other Direct tax 1.9
      Other Indirect Tax 5.4
      Interest, Dividends 2.1
      Other Income 4.2
      Total 61 ($Billion)

      Assuming all Budgeted Income is available for all MSD payments (including Superannuation which is excluded by Mr Farrar) we might expect 40% of income tax to contribute towards MSD payments on the basis that total income tax collected is 40% ( 24.3/61) of all Budgeted Income. 40% of the 24.3 billion of income tax is 5.66 billion.

      Treasury point out that 17% of all expected income tax collected is from individuals ( not households ) earning more than $150,000. So the tax collected from the highest earning individuals to contribute would be 0.17 * 5.66 billion which is 0.96 billion.

      So, 0.96 billion coming from the taxpayers earning over $150,000 represents 4% of the total tax collected, that is 4 cents in every dollar. In comparison those earning $90,000 and above would pay 8 cents in the dollar towards MSD payments. Those earning $60,000 – $70000 contribute 2 cents in the dollar.

      While these figures are a mixture of actual and budget they don’t suggest that higher earning taxpayers are contributing alarmingly large amounts to MSD. Using data for individual taxpayers and not households, as well as not assuming that all tax goes to pay for MSD, we get a very different picture.

  14. Richard 14

    Id question Bill English’s sources, even if he said a cloudless night sky is black… it was laughable when Bill English was interviewed by 3 news and tried to claim that not having to pay CGT was morally fair, when he himself benefit’s from no CGT

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