Thursday, August 21, 2014

21/8/2014: Capital v Labour Taxes: Time to Scratch that Cabbage Head, Mr. Politico

Ireland, like majority of other small open economies, runs a tax regime that is punitive to highly skilled workers and benign to capital owners. This, as I explain in part here (, spells bad news for wealth distribution. It is simply a tax transfer from one form of capital (human capital) to other forms of capital (financial, IP and physical capital). Still, majority of small economies around the world continue to argue in favour of skinning alive their human capital and subsidising (in either relative or absolute terms) other forms of capital, based on a simple argument: in modern world, financial, IP and technological forms of capital are highly mobile (tax them and they will run for the border, goes the argument), even physical capital is mobile over the long run (tax it and investment will flow somewhere else), while labour is tied to its chair by the chains of visas, work permits etc (tax workers and they have nowhere to go).

Of course, in the real world, labour is mobile and highly skilled labour is highly mobile. That is something our outdated, outsmarted and out-of-touch political classes do not comprehend. But some academics do. Here's an example: Aghion, Philippe and Akcigit, Ufuk and Fernández-Villaverde, Jesús, paper, titled "Optimal Capital Versus Labor Taxation with Innovation-Led Growth" (May 31, 2013. PIER Working Paper No. 13-025. shows that in presence of mobile labour force, capital subsidies are suboptimal from the revenue point off view. And worse, the more innovation-driven is your growth (the more reliant it is on human capital and the more mobile that human capital is), the lower is efficiency of capital supports.

"Chamley (1986) and Judd (1985) showed that, in a standard neoclassical growth model with capital accumulation and infinitely lived agents, either taxing or subsidizing capital cannot be optimal in the steady state. In this paper, we introduce innovation-led growth into the Chamley-Judd framework, using a Schumpeterian growth model where productivity-enhancing innovations result from pro.t-motivated R&D investment."

Enough of mumbo-jumbo. "Our main result is that, for a given required trend of public expenditure, a zero tax/subsidy on capital becomes suboptimal. In particular, the higher the level of public expenditure and the income elasticity of labor supply, the less should capital income be subsidized and the more it should be taxed. Not taxing capital implies that labor must be taxed at a higher rate. This in turn has a detrimental effect on labor supply and therefore on the market size for innovation. At the same time, for a given labor supply, taxing capital also reduces innovation incentives, so that for low levels of public expenditure and/or labor supply elasticity it becomes optimal to subsidize capital income."

Of course, labour supply is even more income elastic when it is related to high quality human capital (that can be marketed internationally), and worse, when it is related to innovation (the one that is sought after by dozens of advanced economies bidding over each other to attract the right talent in).

Now, give it a thought:
* Irish tax system literally destroys returns to human capital through punitive levels of taxation of returns on high skills;
* Irish labour markets are open to migration (including emigration of highly skilled);
* Irish economy competes for high skills with scores of other similar economies; and
* Irish state is subsidising in relative terms returns to physical and financial capital, while our tax codes also subsidise IP returns.

Time to scratch that cabbage head, Mr. Politico?

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