Foolish Fraser?

Fraser Nelson claims that Chuka Umunna is "clueless" on economics. But the Speccie editor is either "clueless" himself or being dishonest about the Budget.

Yesterday evening Spectator editor, Fraser Nelson, launched a stinging attack on one of Labour’s rising stars, Chuka Umunna MP, who had written an “open letter” to George Osborne. Using one of the oldest trick in the rhetoricians’ handbook – shooting the messenger rather than the message – Mr Nelson attempted to undermine the underlying argument that the Budget was neither “progressive” nor “unavoidable”.
 

Was the Budget progressive?

Fraser Nelson claims that, “For the first time ever, the Budget produced a distributional impact – along the IFS lines – to show the rich paid more than the poor”. By way of supporting evidence, he links to Chart A4 of the Budget. But this picture gives a single snapshot of a narrow area of policy half-way through the consolidation period.

The IFS themselves produced a graph of what the total tax and benefit changes would mean in 2014-15 (ie the last year that the changes take effect). They clearly show that stripping away measures announced by Labour (such as the 50p tax rate), provides a rather different picture. In the days after the Budget, IFS Director Robert Chote said:

“Turning to the distributional impact of the Budget, Mr Osborne and Mr Clegg have been keen to describe yesterday’s measures as “progressive” in the sense that the rich will feel more pain than the poor. That is a debateable claim…

“The Budget looks less progressive – indeed somewhat regressive – when you take out the effect of measures that were inherited from the previous Government, when you look further into the future than 2012–13 and when you include some other measures that the Treasury has chosen not to model.

Meanwhile, Tim Horton and Howard Reed produced an assessment of the distributional impact of spending cuts which showed, “All households are hit considerably, but the poorest households are hit the hardest”
 

Was the Budget unavoidable?

Nelson jumps on a single phrase by Umunna for two of his five points. He challenges Umunna’s assertion that, “You could reverse your decision not to raise National Insurance contributions”. But although the Budget decision announced an increase in the secondary NICs threshold of £21 per week rather than a rate cut, the Labour MP can be forgiven for conflating the two policies since the Chancellor himself used his Budget speech to present the policy as a “different approach” to Labour’s “jobs tax”. In any case, the Budget measure costs twice as much as the housing benefit reforms that Mr Umunna cites (see Table 2.1 of the Budget for more details) so the decision was a clear choice.

Mr Nelson goes on to claim that a “NIC tax rise would take money out of people’s pockets – it means lower wages for employees, or high prices for consumers.” This takes us back to the tiresome “jobs tax” arguments of the election. Nelson and his pals claim that only tax rises impact growth and therefore jobs. But according to the OBR, the “fiscal multipliers” of cutting spending have a greater impact on growth than raising taxes. Table C8 of the Budget (reproduced below) is clear on this.

The Speccie editor goes on to dismiss Umunna’s point on the “Robin Hood Tax” by claiming that international cooperation – which the Tories did not think was necessary for their banking levy – is a pre-requisite. That is a debatable point but Nelson says nothing about the Labour MP’s ideas to increase the bank levy to at least £6 billion, exempt banks from corporation tax cuts, or extend the tax on bankers’ bonuses. Left Foot Forward would add to that list scrapping the Coalition’s regressive tax threshold changes and would also question where now is the right time to cut corporation tax or to freeze council tax. If Mr Umunna’s ideas plus our own were implemented, it would raise £17.5 billion per year by 2014-15 – enough to avoid many of the cuts planned by the Coalition before you even get to a discussion of whether an extra £32 billion of cuts by 2014-15 is really necessary.

Left Foot Forward doesn’t really believe that Fraser Nelson is foolish or, indeed “clueless“. But he is certainly being dishonest about the Budget.

18 Responses to “Foolish Fraser?”

  1. Political Scrapbook

    RT @leftfootfwd: Foolish @frasernels? The Speccie editor is either being "clueless" himself or dishonest about the Budget //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  2. psbook

    RT @leftfootfwd: Foolish @frasernels? The Speccie editor is either being "clueless" himself or dishonest about the Budget //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  3. Will Straw

    Why the @frasernels attack on @ChukaUmunna's open letter to George Osborne is either "clueless" or dishonest //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  4. Shamik Das

    RT @wdjstraw: Why the @frasernels attack on @ChukaUmunna's open letter to Mr Osborne is either "clueless" or dishonest: //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  5. Robert Robinson

    RT @wdjstraw: Why the @frasernels attack on @ChukaUmunna's open letter to Mr Osborne is either "clueless" or dishonest: //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  6. tony hatfield

    RT @leftfootfwd: Foolish @frasernels? The Speccie editor is either being "clueless" himself or dishonest abt the Budget //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  7. Guido Fawkes

    Kennedy’s Interest Equalisation tax, made London the centre of the Eurodollar and Eurobond markets. Similarly, uilaterally implementing a financial transaction tax would kill the City. This is so obvious to everyone who works in the markets that it is not considered a serious issue.

    It ain’t gonna happen unless Wall Street, the City and every other major financial centre agreed to it. Forget it. Tax the bank’s profits, not the transactions. The revenue that people think will be captured is far less than campaigners imagine. Last time I looked into this (some years ago) the FX markets main players had total profits of some $10 billion yet campaigners (at the time) reckoned they could tax it for $50 billion. They confuse turnover with profit.

    See //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interest_Equalization_Tax

  8. Emma Burnell

    RT @wdjstraw: Why the @frasernels attack on @ChukaUmunna's open letter to George Osborne is either "clueless" or dishonest //bit.ly/b9Vpe5

  9. Ewan Blackledge

    Will Straw on Fraser Nelson's criticism of @ChukaUmunna //tinyurl.com/39zeaft "he is certainly being dishonest about the Budget."

  10. Mike Thomas

    The banking levy is a balance sheet tax. The Tobin Tax is a transactional tax.

    The latter would do far more damage due to the global nature of banking and financial services, the transactions would simply be re-routed. Hence the need to implement it globally. A balance sheet tax is borne on the whole business and not just the aspects of banking that are highly transactional.

    A unilateral Tobin tax would certainly do far more damage economically than a banking levy.

    Lastly, reducing taxes does not take money out of the economy, the net result in monetary terms is zero. Chuka really need to start at the basics here with the basics of money supply and quantity theory. Not raising taxes means that money is kept in private hands and it is far more productive than money given to the State.

  11. Mr. Sensible

    Will, wasn’t this the same Mr Nelson who admitted that these cuts were purely about ideology in the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago?

  12. Gerry

    All looks like Class war

    already people are talking about closing down the Opera House, last night of the proms (by any means)

    Smash the rich

  13. Michael Burke

    Mike Thomas

    You make a series of foolish assertions. If ‘putting money in private hands’ were a panacea, taxes would be falling everywhere. Instead, net, they are rising. Money in private hands which does not circulate, through the saving or hoarding of cash which is characteristic of a slump, depresses demand. Government spending increases it. There is nothing ‘efficient’ about the build-up of financial balances in the private sector, which has occurred throughout the recession.

    Will, those OBR multipliers look plucked from the air. There is a highly partial reading of even the selective literature cited on p.95 of the Budget report. The Treasury estimates the multiplier for general govt. spending at 1.4 (equivalent to RDEL in the table), while the IMF puts govt. investment at 3.5 (equivalent to CDEL).

  14. Michael Burke

    “Money in private hands which does not circulate, through the saving or hoarding of cash which is characteristic of a slump, depresses demand. Government spending increases it. There is nothing ‘efficient’ about the build-up of financial balances in the private sector, which has occurred throughout the recession.”

    Looks like someone else could use a read up on the Quantity Theory of Money – namely VELOCITY.

    Lastly, it is naive in the extreme to suggest that money hoarded through saving depresses demand. Increasing capitalisation ratios which is what savings actually does will lead to an increase in liquidity through the availability of CREDIT.

    I notice you are a socialist economist. Marvellous, enjoy your socialist inspired depression. We’ve had the complete ignorance of regulation through Clinton’s inspired repeal of Glass-Stegall and Communities Investment idiocy of giving the poor loans they couldn’t afford.

    Then we had genius of flawed banking regulation and the abolition of boom and bust from another left-winger.

    Then we had the Keynesian stimulus when they forget the Keynesian need for surpluses during the boom.

    Now we have the starving of liquidity by ignoring the money supply.

    And you feel supremely qualified to lecture us on the right on economic matters?

    Lastly, “There is nothing ‘efficient’ about the build-up of financial balances in the private sector, which has occurred throughout the recession.”

    Really, I thought they were de-leveraging like mad to extract themselves out of debts they were worried they might not be able to pay back. As a result the private sector is now out of the worst and is looking to grow again.

    If you are referring to the banks, they were told to accumulate capital by a government that thought the BASEL II capitalisation ratios were still too low.

  15. Whig

    This is based upon a perverse assumption that a progressive budget is a ‘good’ thing. As Fraser Nelson himself points out, statists, the Left or whatever term you use judge by intentions, but what of outcomes? Such ‘progressive’ ideology, in the form of progressive taxation’ is simply discrimination. If we were, say, to tax gay people more that would be considered ‘unfair’ , so why do we pick out the better off to tax more (ignoring that they automatically pay more tax as they have higher incomes etc)? It’s this sort of thinking that creates the huge marginal tax rates and disincentives to work, or to work only 15 hours per week say, that occur in this country. We need simple flat taxes which are i) fair because they treat all evenly and (ii) will ultimately create more wealth due to Rahn and Laffer curve effects and (iii) will reduce the enormous costs of extraction and tax avoidance etc. Flat taxes are fair, progressive taxes are discriminatory and therefore are unfair in any sensible meaning of the term (fair taxes = everyone is treated exactly the same).

  16. Whig

    Under (ii) create more wealth and therefore a potentially higher tax yield – assuming we want such a thing

  17. Fat Bloke on Tour

    WS — Save your breath, he really is a class act. He tries to do numbers but usually makes a hash of it. At least he will be in the running for the job of “Poshest man in Britain” once BS chucks it.

    Yes, Trevor, aka “Fraser” the fastest spinner in the Nelson family even though my brother is a DJ really does know how to muck it up when it comes to economics and numbers.

    He posted some nonsense about the size of the workforce and participation rates with Maggie leading the way during the election campaign. I challenged him on the numbers and he did the usual right wing, born to lead, never make a mistake non denial denial.

    Strangely he never made any claims on numbers for the rest of the campaign. Clearly he has regained his self assuarance only to shoot himself in the foot once more.

    Great what a MOD subsidised education does for the bright and the beautiful, sloppy journalism and naked hypocrisy. This can be seen by any reading of his old stock in trade rants about our boys in the ‘stan being denied their rightful equipment by a un-caring and heartless Treasury inspired by GB.

    He really is a prize numpty.

Leave a Reply