Where is Ireland’s Tax Burden Heading?

In my discussion at Monday’s conference (slides here), I raised the question of where Ireland’s tax burden was going to settle down once the public finances have been stabilized. The Addendum to the Stability Report published last week by the Department of Finance shows how the Gross Budget Balance can be brought back to a deficit of 2.5% by 2013 through an adjustment process in which the revenue share of GDP stays roughly stable so that almost all of the adjustment occurs on the Revenue side. The document itself does not comment on the composition of the adjustment described in this table, so perhaps this isn’t an actual plan but instead an illustrative example. Still, it’s worth starting with as a baseline for discussing where we are heading.

I noted on Monday that the plan projects a government revenue share of GDP of 34% in 2013 and that this is well below the equivalent share for EU15 countries, which has been stable at about 45% for a number of years. A number of observers at the conference questioned this calculation on the grounds that the calculation should be done relative to GNP. In particular, since GDP has been about 17% higher than GNP in recent years, one might want to adjust the tax share upwards by this amount. Doing so would give a figure for 2013 of about 41.5%. This is still a reasonable amount lower than the EU15 average but not nearly as much as the figures I quoted

However, I do not view this higher GNP-based figure as a useful one, for two reasons.

First, I believe that GDP rather than GNP should be viewed as the correct tax base when making calculations of this sort. GDP represents all the income generated in this country and, technically, all of it is available to be taxed by the Irish government at whatever rate it chooses. Of course, profit income generated by multinational corporations is likely to move elsewhere if we tax it at a sufficiently high rate but this is an issue faced by all governments, not just our own.

Second, if one is going to exclude the substantial factor income repatriated abroad (€28 billion in 2007) from the tax base it is not consistent to then include the taxes earned on this income in the measure of the tax burden. Assuming that the €28 billion figure represents corporate profits repatriated after paying the 12.5% corporate tax rate, one comes up with a figure of €4.1 billion in taxes paid by multinationals on repatriated profits. Excluding tax payments of this magnitude would give a 2013 (adjusted) tax share of GNP of 39%. So, even if one agreed with the idea of GNP as the tax base, an internally-consistent calculation of the Irish tax burden would still leave it well below the European average.

The broader and more important point here is that we need a wider debate about the shape of future fiscal adjustment than the one currently taking place, which focuses almost without exception on the need to reduce public sector pay.

Conference Announcement: Responding to the Crisis

Below are details of a conference on the Irish economic situation. Admission is free, but spaces are limited. Places can be booked by email to stefanie.feicke@ucd.ie, telephone (01) 7168335.

The conference website is here.

Responding to the Crisis

The UCD School of Economics, in association with the Dublin Economics Workshop, has arranged a half-day conference on the current economic crisis at the Royal College of Physicians, 6, Kildare St., Dublin 2, on January 12th. 2009.

Programme

14.15 Introductory Remarks

Rodney Thom (UCD)

14.20 Session 1: Fiscal Consolidation

Chair: John Fitz Gerald (ESRI)

Philip Lane (TCD): Fiscal Policy Options in the Euro Area

Ciaran O’Hagan (SocGen Paris): How Much Can Small Sovereigns Borrow?

Colm McCarthy (UCD): Expenditure Control and Fiscal Consolidation

Discussant: Karl Whelan (UCD)

Coffee at 15.45

16.00 Session 2: The Property Bubble and the Banking Crisis

Chair: Brendan Walsh (UCD)

Patrick Honohan (TCD): Resolving the Banking Crisis

Morgan Kelly (UCD): The Irish Property Bubble and its Consequences

Robbie Kelleher (Davy): Bank Solvency, Basle II and Accounting Standards

Discussant: Alan Ahearne (NUI Galway)

Conference concludes at 17.30.