JOCELYN PIXLEY. Emma Alberici’s data was inconvenient for corporate tax cutters.

Sep 28, 2018

Times are dangerous for the ABC, at least to those who appreciate fair, independent journalism. My example is Emma Alberici’s report on corporate tax cuts, which was stating what is well-known across the OECD for years. In addition, taxes are no charity.

In my view, attacks on the ABC for left-wing bias are dubious when most reports, debates and opinions are fairly matched, when some major ABC current affairs programmes are often pro-LNP and ABC News is increasingly devoted to murders in tabloid style too. Moreover Whitlam, for misguided reasons (as it turned out) abandoned the ABC’s TV licence as a source of funding – unlike the BBC. I certainly support ABC charter which is meant to free it from all political party influence, but pressures from funding have not furthered that.

Take the criticisms of Alberici’s report on research about corporate tax cuts. The evidence supports her work overwhelmingly. The reason the LNP government objected to Alberici’s work on cuts is because LNP promoters gave the slimmest of justifications. The claim about the “jobs and growth” that would ensue from the tax cuts is no longer believable, if it ever was. And in practice that seemed to be confirmed in the Longman by-election: a far more inconvenient detail for the LNP than Alberici’s work that gets to some key problems.

But much more can be said about the 40-year efforts of right-wing governments to succour their supporters. The plan was based on the old “Laffer curve” – a simplistic 1974 doodle that launched trickle-down economics (Mike Seccombe reminded us last year). Tory PM Thatcher created stagnation partly via Laffer’s advice and, ever since, Tories have consistently worsened the social landscape wherein some UK regions are poorer than even Greece. Republican President Bush Snr. called it voodoo economics, not Trump Republicans. Seccombe and Alberici cite the US Congressional Research Service (2012) that found no correlation between taxes of the highest income-earners and economic growth. Alberici also cites Saul Eslake, RBA Governor Lowe, the ABS, the OECD, Statistics Canada and the UK’s ONS, and those with counter evidence or models. Yet the US Economic Policy Institute research up to September 2018 shows last year’s US tax cuts have not increased investment or improved it through that weirdly-used term ‘competitiveness’ but have flowed to corporate buy-backs and increased rentier dividends. It means the benefits of corporate tax cuts are pocketed, particularly in the absence of conditions like jobs and wage rises attached. President Kennedy did apply investment conditions on his tax cuts, but conditions did not apply from Reagan onwards. Wealth and income inequality have risen markedly since the 1970s across the OECD. Pressing on, Arthur Laffer – as though risen from the dead – advised Trump and visited then PM Turnbull who thereupon talked of (long disproven) ‘laws’ of supply and demand.

One can hardly blame Alberici for citing Mathias Cormann (2018) saying that ‘wages will increase as night follows day’ because, he said, the tax cut was ‘plain logic’ and not ‘economic theory’ but ‘economic practice’. No one can dispute that regressive taxes are indeed ‘practiced’, but the question is to what effect. Alberici (22 Feb 2018) having removed ‘opinion’ that is hard to separate from the reams of data across the world dismissing any idea there are benefits, is also hardly to blame that, after Longman, the corporate tax cuts were ‘cut’. Moreover, Alberici merely suggests it is hard to prove a link with wages. But let’s push her modest suggestion further. It is not only that the LNP has cut penalty rates and dismisses the essential role any union movement plays in civil society. The LNP might ponder that Stalin and Hitler differently liquidated those countries’ union movements; also, the Fourth Estate vanished (a free press). Another furphy is extolling the tax gains to be made from bracket creep, when wages remain flat, or conversely claiming that bracket creep can be removed via a more regressive income tax system. Most people’s income is not ‘creeping’ into higher brackets.

The problem is also that so many link taxes with paying for government social provisions. The US tax cuts have increased its budget deficit (RBA) but what is the cost in social health, education and security? Using a household budget analogy, high deficit governments are said to be unable to afford social spending. This is not true in accounting terms. Governments spend through issuing the currency and tax later in their own currency (continually). Strictly speaking taxes are debt repayments to government, whether you prefer a massive spending on defence and policing and/or on improving the lives of citizens: the electorate. Just like bank-created money, state-created money needs debt-servicing into the future and, for a not unrelated reason, the bond vigilantes prefer that governments spend on defence than citizens’ well-being.

This is all to say that tax-paying is no charity, as the well-off assume. If state-money becomes inflationary, taxes should increase, but state-spending should balloon in deflation. Even if they choose, the well-off are still in debt to governments that provide decent policing if not huge war machines. The overall problem with this machismo is that economic activity is far less from military hardware expenditure than from state stimulus designed for decently paid (taxable) jobs and from expenditure that increases effective demand of all consumers, of which the well-off are a small fraction. They and the corporate chiefs can stare at a barren and divided social landscape that the LNP appears to favour, and exploit desperate workers, to the grave, the Royal Commission into banking shows. But we live in a democracy. Voters are unlikely to choose oligarchy willingly.

It is possible the now former ABC Chair wanted the tax cuts. Alberici provided an inconvenient report, no laffing matter I think to more than Justin Milne.

Jocelyn Pixley was a full-time academic, now Honorary Professor at Macquarie University. Her book on Central Banks (CUP) is just out.



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