The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom is in the process of selecting a new leader to replace the disastrous Theresa May as Prime Minister.
The most important goal for the Tories is to find someone who will deliver a clean Brexit and thereby extricate the country from a decrepit and declining European Union.
But once Brexit does happen, adopting pro-growth policies will be very important– especially if the European Union petulantly tries to make the transition painful by rejecting a free trade agreement.
The bad news is that the U.K. is only ranked #120 for fiscal policy.
Since that’s the weak spot, let’s see what can be done to move in the right direction.
Let’s look at the tax side of the fiscal equation. According to the Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index, the U.K. is in the bottom half (almost in the bottom third). And I’ve circled the country’s dismal ranking for individual taxes.
By the way, I don’t think this Index is a perfect measure. As I pointed out back in 2016, it needs to include a size-of-government variable.
Nonetheless, it’s a great place to start.
Now let’s consider the fiscal plans of various candidates for Tory leader.
The U.K.-based Mirror has a helpful summary.
Frontrunner Boris Johnson has promised a massive income tax cut for Britain’s richest people – by raising the 40p threshold from £50,000 to £80,000. …Meanwhile Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said he would partially reverse swingeing Tory cuts to the police and recruit 20,000 police officers. He also planned a tax cut for the richest 1% of taxpayers in the UK by removing the 45p rate of income tax, if it pays off overall. …Michael Gove has pledged to scrap VAT replacing it with a simpler sales tax. …Meanwhile Esther McVey has vowed to cut taxes – without saying which – and slash £7billion from the foreign aid budget and spend it on school and police. …Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab…promised to shrink the state and slash public spending by reducing the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 15p over time – including a 1p drop “straight away”. …Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to cut corporation tax further to 12.5%. That would make the UK’s tax rate by far the lowest in the G20 and turn the country into a tax haven. …Rory Stewart has himself already said he would double spending on climate change and the environment as he warned the UK must do more in the face of an “environmental cataclysm”. Former Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom…is committed to “low taxes, incentives for enterprise and strong employment opportunities”.
A mixed bag.
Rory Stewart seems to have the most statist mindset (he’s also very weak on Brexit), but it’s not clear who has the best fiscal plan.
Let’s look at more data. The Wall Street Journal opined this morning on this topic.
The editorial starts with an indictment of the current system.
Britain’s Byzantine tax system still drags on investment, productivity and growth despite important recent improvements. The top corporate rate has fallen to 19% from 30% since 2007 and is due to hit 17% next year. But the top personal rate, paid on incomes above £150,000, has fallen only to 45% from 50%. Coupled with abrupt income cutoffs in eligibility for allowances and credits, British taxpayers in practice can experience a marginal rate as high as 60% for each additional pound of income between £100,000 and £124,000, and 65% for families with three children earning between £50,000 and £60,000, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Add taxes on pension contributions at higher incomes and some workers pay marginal rates above 100% on parts of their income—paying more than a pound in tax for each additional pound they earn. …Social-insurance and property taxes add more burdens.
How do Tory candidates propose to deal with these problems?
The best Conservative leadership proposals so far come from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.Mr. Hunt pledges to reduce the corporate rate to 12.5% to match Ireland’s low rate… Mr. Javid would cut the top individual rate to 40%. …Frontrunner Boris Johnson promises to increase the threshold at which the 40% rate kicks in, to £80,000 from £50,000. The 4.2 million people estimated to see their taxes reduced won’t complain. But tweaking brackets does nothing to fix the current tax code’s bad rate incentives for top earners—the entrepreneurs and investors post-Brexit Britain needs to attract. …Brexit hardliner Dominic Raab would cut the lower personal rate for earners between £12,500 and £50,000 to 15% from 20%. Any rate cut is welcome, but this would help many households that already receive more in benefits than they pay in tax. Environment Secretary Michael Gove would replace the 20% value-added tax with a lower-rate U.S.-style sales tax, which would be a boon to low-income households. But neither would fix broken incentives to work and invest as incomes rise.
As you can see, it’s a mix of mediocre-to-good ideas.
Much like when Republicans generated a bunch of plans when competing for the nomination in 2016.
Of course, let’s also keep in mind that Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party also has a tax plan, which is a poisonous collection of class-warfare provisions that would make the U.K. less attractive for jobs and investment.
Which means it is especially important, as the WSJ concludes, to have a compelling case for growth instead of redistribution.
…the only way Britain can prosper post-Brexit is by becoming a magnet for investment and human talent. If voters want the party of income redistribution, they’ll choose Labour. Tories have to be the credible party of growth, with a leader willing and able to make the reform case.
In other words, is there another Margaret Thatcher somewhere in the mix?