Trinity scientists on inequality aversion

Normal people are hard-wired to dislike inequality, it appears.

It reminded me of the famous quote from Keynes, in this beautiful essay:

The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.

A 20 Percent Tax Rate for Higher Earners?

On Tuesday night near the end of his TV3 show, Vincent Browne returned to one his favourite themes, the taxation of those on higher incomes. He put the following statement to Fianna Fail TD, Timmy Dooley

In June of last year, the Department of Finance showed that in spite of efforts to close off tax loopholes in the 2007 and 2008 budgets, people earning over a half a million still pay only 20 percent of their income in tax. Now why weren’t they targeted rather than people on social welfare?

Dooley told Browne that the budget had seen an increase in the effective tax rate for these individuals to 30 percent, to which Mister Browne responded, “Not true, It’s just not true.” Later, after Mister Dooley discussed other steps taken to stabilise the public finances, Browne asserted that “You could have achieved the same thing by targeting people earning half a million and you didn’t bother.”

On the same theme, in his column in Wednesday’s Irish Times, Browne stated

How come there was no crisis when a report by the Department of Finance last June disclosed that, in spite of the alleged attempt to close tax loopholes, the average effective tax rate for people earning over €500,000 was just 20 per cent?

I’d like to address three aspects of the TV exchange and this column.

Continue reading “A 20 Percent Tax Rate for Higher Earners?”

The Financing of Healthcare

In addition to the acute problems caused by the economic crisis,  Ireland (along with all other countries) must also resolve chronic policy challenges, with the financing of healthcare near the top of that list.

This article in The Economist provides an interesting cross-country survey of the pros and cons of private insurance.

Issuance of BoI Shares

Today’s media coverage of the Bank of Ireland share issuance contained a number of inaccuracies, which to be fair, probably isn’t too surprising given the complexities of the issues.

On RTE’s Drivetime show, its reporter said that the share issuance occurred because the European Commission was preventing banks from paying dividends on the preference shares. Technically, this isn’t correct. The Commission is preventing banks from paying coupons on subordinated bonds. These bonds, in turn, have dividend stopper clauses and it is these clauses that prevented the payment of the cash dividends.

This is perhaps a technical distinction and it may be difficult to get across the true picture in a short space of time. More misleadingly, however, when I appeared on The Last Word today, I heard Fianna Fail TD Frank Fahey state that the Commission had merely put a hold on cash dividend payments to the government while it is assessing BoI and AIB’s restructuring plans. Fahey thus asserted that in a few months time, AIB’s business plan would have been approved and the government would be receiving the cash dividend from AIB in May.

However, as I noted last week, the coupon stopper is in place “to prevent the reduction of own funds by financial institutions which are still reliant on State aid to fulfil regulatory capital requirements.” It seems likely that AIB will still be reliant on state support in May so by that reasoning the coupon stopper is likely to still be in place.

I’ve been a little surprised that there has been no coverage of the fact that the shares were paid out despite the NTMA CEO John Corrigan and the Minister for Finance both stating in public last week that they could wait to collect the cash dividend. It appears, however, that Bank of Ireland’s own bylaws required it to pay out the shares on the deadline day (see this report by the Independent’s Emmet Oliver). It seems a little strange that Mister Corrigan and the Minister were not aware that the shares were going to be issued.

Governor Honohan’s characterisation of the whole affair as “untidy” seems about right (comments reported on the Six-One TV news). He is, of course, also correct that this payment is small beer compared with the amount of recapitalisation that the banks are going to need after the NAMA transfers. With AIB transferring €24 billion to NAMA, and BoI transferring €15.5 and mooted discounts of about a third, recapitalisation requirements will be a lot more than €250 million. But the fact that €250 million acquires 15.7% of BoI tells us that a far more serious dilution of ownership is on its way.

Cormac on famine

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the purpose of blogs is to provide free advertising for a blogger’s own books. Let me buck the trend then, by giving a plug to Cormac’s latest offering, a great example of the power of economics (and history) to illuminate the human condition. I discussed it on last Saturday’s Off the Shelf, which you can download here.