She also notes my support for extending national insurance to investment income. Here, unfortunately an extra zero has crept into the Guardian copy. This will not raise £40 billion. Cautiously it may raise only £4 billion after exempting small receipts and those of some pensioners, but the impact will be bigger. A great deal of tax avoidance is still focussed on national insurance. This would stop much of that in its tracks.
Then we might get business focussing on more important things, like productivity, making things people want, and investing for the future. Right now far too much business advice is simply about how to reduce tax payments. When that whole scenario changes to a situation where people seek advice on how to boost their incomes by doing things better we might see a real gain to the UK economy. Without reform on tax that is not going to happen. That’s a very good reason why tackling tax abuse should be so high on the agenda now.
That’s really…..fascinating. If we tax the returns to investment more highly then people will do more investing, work harder to make their investments work. This is akin to his earlier argument that if we raise income tax rates then more married women will go out to work in order to maintain the family income.
That is, in both cases he’s arguing that the income effect is more important than the substitution effect. That latter being where people look at higher tax rates, decide “Ah, fuck it, not worth it” and go fishing instead. The former being the idea that we all have a target income in mind and that we’ll do whatever work necessary to achieve it.
And it should be said that both effects are true: all people some of the time, some people all of the time and the net effect is of course the balance of who does what in any one situation. Thus our Laffer curve.
There’s one problem with Ritchie’s thoughts here though. With those higher income taxes he thought that the income effect would be strong among those married women. Yet we know very well (from careful empirical work) that it’s actually the substitution effect that’s very strong for married women. Stronger than it is for unmarried women, stronger than it is for men. For the obvious reason that they’ve already got something to do if they’re not working which is to stay home and run a home (along with whatever children etc). They can, just as a partial example, not go to work to earn the money for childcare but stay home and do it themselves.
So, Ritchie’s first stab at this failed simply because he doesn’t know enough economics to know how the income and substitution effects play out.
And his second attempt also fails for he doesn’t understand that the substitution effect is higher for capital income than it is for labour income. Thus why there are higher deadweight costs to capital taxation than there are to labour: deadweight costs being the loss of economic activity we get from levying a particular and specific tax.
And thus, of course, why Sir John Mirrlees got his Nobel in part: for pointing out that the tax rates on capital income should be lower than those on labour income. Because doing it that way makes the entire society richer.
But obviously all of that is empirical economics worked out painfully over the past couple of hundred years by lots of very bright people. All of which is wrong according to Ritchie. Because, well, because it’s wrong, d’ye see?