Advancing a Free Society

Britain's 50p Tax Rate: The Evidence Against

Friday, September 9, 2011

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On his excellent blog Analysing British Politics, my Warwick colleague Wyn Grant (with whom I taught The Making of Economic Policy last year) has announced: Economists disagree shock. Yesterday, nineteen other economists and I signed a letter in the Financial Times urging a rapid retreat from Britain's "temporary" 50p tax rate on higher incomes. Today, two more economists (Alan Manning of LSE and Warwick's own Andrew Oswald) have responded, noting that the evidence linking personal location decisions to marginal tax rates is unimpressive. Wyn points out, also, that the precise fiscal effects of the 50p tax rate will not be known for some time.

It is no surprise to find that economists disagree. Wyn and I teach on our course that the world is complex; we often remain uncertain about exactly how causation works, even long after the event. Uncertainty is not the same as total ignorance, however. While the letter that I signed emphasized the tax competition argument against the 50p tax rate, I supported the argument on other grounds for which there exist clear empirical foundations. Because economic causation is uncertain, there is also contrary evidence. I place particular emphasis on the evidence I've selected, partly because I regard those that have produced it as fine scholars.

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