Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Stand by for the oddly designed Stage 3 tax cut that will send middle earners backwards and give high earners thousands

The Reserve Bank is pushing up interest rates to take money out of our hands.

The first increase in the current round will add about A$65 a month to the cost of paying off a $500,000 mortgage.

The second will add a bit more. If, as the bank’s forecasts assume, there are another four such increases this year, that’s a further $275 a month, and so on.

The point, in the words of the Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, is to “slow the economy, to get things back onto an even keel”.

In a helpful video, the Governor explains that rate rises take money out of mortgagee’s hands directly, make it harder to borrow, make people “feel less happy”, and hit the prices of houses and other assets so people “don’t feel as confident and they don’t spend as much”.

Which is fair enough, if the Governor decides that’s what’s needed.

So why on earth are we scheduled to do the opposite?

As the RBA takes, the government will give

From mid-2024 the government will put an awful lot of money in to people’s hands. Stage 3 of the income tax cuts will cost $15.7 billion in its first year.

By way of comparison, that’s almost as much as the $16.3 billion will be spent on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that year, and more than the $10.5 billion that will be spent on higher education.

That it is mistimed ought not be a surprise. Stage 3 was legislated in 2018.

The treasurer at the time, back in the year Grant Denyer won the Gold Logie, was Scott Morrison, who said he was legislating Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the tax cuts all at once (and Stage 3 six years ahead of time) in order to provide “certainty”.

A tax switch settled years ahead of time

So uncertain was the treasury about the future back then that it only forecast the economy two years ahead, and produced less reliable and more mechanical “projections” for the following two years, neither of which extended to 2024.

At the time the Reserve Bank had been cutting interest rates (12 times in a row), at the time inflation was 1.9%. It looked as if the economy could do with a bit of a boost, albeit a boost which wouldn’t be delivered for six years.

In saying that things have changed, it’s fair to also acknowledge that things might change back again. We can’t be sure what will be needed in 2024, although we can be a good deal more sure than we were back then.

Backed by Labor

The Stage 3 tax cuts were opposed by Labor at first, but are now backed by Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers after “weighing up a whole range of considerations”.

They are overwhelmingly directed at high earners.

Of the $184.2 billion the parliamentary budget office believes Stage 3 will cost in its first seven years, $137.9 billion is directed to Australians on $120,000 or more.

Part of Stage 3, the part that cuts the rate applying to incomes over $45,000 from 32.5 cents in the dollar to 30 cents, will benefit most taxpayers.

The bigger part extends that low rate all the way up to $200,000, abolishing an entire rung of the tax ladder paid by the highest earners.

For those very high earners, the part of their income that was taxed at 37 cents will be taxed at 30, as will part of the rest that was taxed at 45 cents.

A politician, on a base salary of $211,250, will get a tax cut of $9,075. A registered nurse on $72,235 will get a tax cut of $681 according to calculations prepared by the Australia Institute.

More broadly, a typical middle earner can expect $250 a year, whereas a typical earner in the top fifth can expect $4,230 according to a separate analysis by the parliamentary budget office.

The fate of the middle earner will be made worse by the loss of the $1,000+ middle income tax offset which wasn’t extended in this year’s budget, sending the middle earner backwards.

The typical female earner will go backwards too after the loss of the offset, getting half as much as the typical (higher earning) male, according to the budget office.

A tax switch that’ll send some backwards

The logic is (or was) that middle and higher earners would need big tax cuts to compensate them for bracket creep (which is wage rises pushing them into higher tax brackets), though there’s been a lot less of that than expected.

Were it not for the fact that Labor supports and will implement it, Stage 3 would provide a stark contrast with Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s approach unveiled on Tuesday of asking the Fair Work Commission to lift the minimum wage to compensate for inflation.

Such an increase would go to low wage earners first, and flow through more slowly to award wages. It would give the greatest help to those who needed it the most when they needed it, rather than years in the future when things might be quite different.

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Why the RBA should go easy on interest rate hikes: inflation may already be retreating and going too hard risks a recession

One of the stranger things about the Reserve Bank’s announcement of why it’s lifting interest rates by 0.25 percentage points is that it suggests inflation will come down by itself.

“A further rise in inflation is expected in the near term,” the RBA says, “but as supply-side disruptions are resolved, inflation is expected to decline back towards the target range of 2-3%.

So why raise rates now, for the first time in more than a decade? The bank says it is about "withdrawing some of the extraordinary monetary support that was put in place to help the Australian economy during the pandemic”, which is fair enough.

But our latest burst of inflation is weird, and resistant to rate hikes. If the Reserve Bank isn’t careful, too many more rate hikes like this might help bring on a recession.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese is as good as correct when he says “everything is going up except your wages” – not completely correct, because wages are going up, by a minuscule 2.3% per year on the official figures; but essentially correct, because when it comes to prices, almost every single one is going up.

Every three months the Bureau of Statistics prices around 100,000 goods and services. They account for almost everything we buy, the exceptions including illegal drugs and prostitution, where pricing would be “difficult and dangerous”.

Among the types of bread the bureau prices are rye, sliced white, and multigrain, from all sorts of stores in every capital city. Where the bureau doesn’t price a type of loaf, it is a fair bet its price moves in line with the loaves it does price.

Then it groups these 100,000 or so prices into “expenditure classes”, 87 of them. “Bread” is one, “breakfast cereals” is another. Furniture and rent are two others.

Rarely do the expenditure classes move as one. Typically, only 50 or so of the 87 climb in price. But in the March quarter just finished, an astounding 70 climbed in price; according to Deutsche Bank economist Phil O'Donaghoe, that’s the most ever in the 72-year history of the consumer price index.

And the prices that climbed most – by far – were the ones we had little choice but to pay.

Necessities up, treats not as much

The bureau divides the 87 classes of goods into “non-discretionary” and “discretionary”.

It classifies bread as non-discretionary, biscuits as discretionary; petrol as non-discretionary, new cars as discretionary, and so on.

In the year to March, non-discretionary inflation (the price rises we can’t avoid) was a gargantuan 6.6% – well above the official inflation rate of 5.1%, and the highest in records going back to 2006.

Discretionary inflation – the price rises on the treats we splurge on if we’ve got the money – was only 2.7%.

Not since 2011 has the gap been that wide, which makes this inflation unusual.

While price rises are extraordinarily widespread – because most things need diesel to move them, and we were hit with floods, COVID-linked supply problems and the invasion of Ukraine all at once – they don’t seem to be the result of splurging.

These price rises are more like a tax.

The usual response to the usual hike in inflation is to hike interest rates. It’s a way to take away access to cash and push up mortgage and other payments so people have less money to spend and push up prices.

But this hike in inflation is doing that by itself, as the government recognised in the budget by handing out $250 cash payments to compensate.

These price rises are like a tax

If the big price rises are beyond our control and making us poorer, hiking interest rates to make us poorer still, in the hope we will splurge less on things whose prices we can influence (and whose price rises are small) might not achieve much.

Done repeatedly, the Reserve Bank could push up interest rates because inflation is high, discover inflation is still high, push interest rates higher in response, notice inflation is still high, push interest rates even higher in response… and so on, until it had brought on a recession.

A recession is already a risk with these sorts of price rises. If big enough, they can force consumers to cut other spending to the point where the economy stagnates and creates unemployment in the face of inflation – so-called “stagflation”.

Another response would have been to wait. Seriously. The floods, invasion and supply problems pushing up prices in recent months are likely to pass, pushing down inflation and pushing down a lot of prices.

Inflation might have already fallen

It might have already happened. The oil price has fallen 11% from its peak, down 2.5% in the past two weeks alone. And inflation has fallen – on one measure, to zero.

The official Bureau of Statistics measure of inflation is produced every three months, but for 13 years now the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has produced its own simpler monthly measure, which tracks the official rate pretty well.

Although missing a lot (tracking fewer types of bread, and a national rather than a city-by-city measure) it is produced quickly and more often, providing a better insight into prices in real time.

The latest, released on Monday, points to an inflation rate of zero in April.

That’s right. While some prices continued to rise as always, enough prices fell to offset that. The high inflation in the lead-up to March stopped or paused in April.

Rate hikes need only be mild

It’s different in the United States. There, inflation is supercharged by wage growth averaging 9% and the Federal Reserve is about to lift interest rates aggressively.

Here, wage growth in the year to December was just 2.3%. We’ll get the figures for the year to March in a fortnight. There’s a good case for future rate hikes to be a good deal less aggressive.

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.