Remember this when Labour proposes tax hikes

3 news reports:

Treasury research has found the proportion of all paid by the highest earners fell after the 2001 changes that took the top personal income rate to 39 per cent from 33 percent.

Far from its intended purpose of increasing the contribution by wealthy people to the cost of running the government, the 2001 tax increase spurred the highest income earners to find ways of avoiding tax, the Elasticity of Taxable Income in New Zealand paper found.

It tracks the proportion of income tax paid by different income bands between 1994 and 2008, and finds the top 10 percent of income earners had begun to pay an increasing share of total income tax in the years immediately preceding the tax rate increase and peaked at 38.9 per cent at the time the tax rate increase was announced.

“However, following introduction of the 39 per cent rate, it fell to 33.9 per cent in 2001,” the report says.

This is no surprise. I recall another report that when introduced the rich prick envy tax of 39% on incomes over $60,000 – the number of people earning exactly $60,000 increased something like ten-fold.

It can be as simple as you pay yourself a salary of that amount, as company tax rate is lower, and just let the income stay with your company. Then when you retire you just keep paying yourself a salary a just below the top tax rate, so you never have to pay it.

There is a reason why almost every expert says that a broad base and low rate tax system is best. That’s why I think a land tax is a good idea, but increasing the top tax rate is a terrible idea.

The paper is here, quite readable at 41 pages. Remember this is not a model or projection – this is what actually happened! The three authors are from the IRD, Treasury and the Asian Development Bank.

They find that the share paid by not only the top 10% fell, but even for the top 1%. Prior to the Labour hike the top 1% were 10.2% of taxable income for the seven years up to 2000, and 9.3% for the seven years afterwards. So the top 1% ended up having a lesser share of taxable income after Labour hiked the top tax rate.

Their conclusion:

For the top marginal rate bracket of 39 per cent, the welfare cost of raising an extra dollar of tax revenue was found to be well in excess of a dollar. Furthermore, for the top bracket the marginal tax rate was often found to exceed the revenue-maximising tax rate, for appropriate values of the elasticity of taxable income.

So if Labour in 2014 proposes increasing the top tax rate, don’t think that means more revenue. It may mean less.

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