Bernard Hickey 's Opinion

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey: Numbers reveal National disgrace

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Richard Robinson
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Richard Robinson

I like chart porn. That's looking at charts that help explain how the economy and government operate.

But looking at the charts from Treasury's Monthly Economic Indicators pack just made me angry.

They show how irresponsible John Key's Government has become in the pursuit of pleasing its wealthy backers.

It is clear now that the Government has effectively cut the income tax rate and paid for it by borrowing money overseas, in large part from China. It is an act of economic treason and generational selfishness when a government has decided an already-wealthy part of the population deserves higher incomes paid for by loading foreign debt on future generations of taxpayers.

The charts reveal the results of the cut in the income tax rate from 39 to 33 cents, which was in theory partly paid for by an increase in the GST rate from 12.5 to 15 per cent. They also reveal a massive reversal in a decade-long trend of improvement in New Zealand's public debt position.

Our tax-to-GDP ratio has crashed from almost 34 per cent in late 2008 to 29 per cent last year, which means yet more borrowing on the horizon. At the same time, the tax from individual incomes has fallen from around 32 per cent to around 24 per cent.

This is a direct result of the cut in the top personal tax rate and consumers' shift to spending less and saving more. This means the higher GST rate is not collecting the revenue expected.

Meanwhile, interest-free student loans and Working For Families are deepening budget deficits. That is being paid for with increased Government borrowing to the tune of 15 per cent of GDP.

A collapse in the corporate tax take is only partly responsible and is largely due to the recession rather than any change in policy. It is now rebounding but the tax-to-GDP ratio is worsening.

This is unsustainable without an immediate and extended surge in economic growth, which few expect.

Voters will have to repay this debt in decades to come. Why are they not revolting at this national act of selfishness?

- Herald on Sunday

Bernard Hickey

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News, a Wellington-based political and economic subscription news email service. He also writes for Interest.co.nz and appears regularly on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3. He has been a financial journalist for 25 years, having worked for Reuters, the Financial Times Group and Fairfax Media.

Read more by Bernard Hickey

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