Footballers don't necessarily work harder if they're paid more. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Transfer Deadline Day blows apart scare stories of Labour's plan to reinstate 50p tax rate

How footballers behave on Transfer Deadline Day suggests that raising the top tax rate isn't that dangerous.

Today sees a biannual event in which tens of thousands of people in our country glue themselves to their television and computer screens in a mass monitoring of a rare and globally mobile species. No I am not describing Autumnwatch with Bill Oddie. I am of course talking about Transfer Deadline Day, and the movements of many millionaire footballers across the globe.

The event twice a year when we can all watch members of the 1 per cent truly respond to national tax rates. For example, just monitor the movements today of Radamel Falcao; will he leave the tax haven of Monaco to come to England or Spain? The latter has a new 52 per cent tax rate.

Yet this more tracksuited version of what takes place daily in the financial sector also provides the first opportunity to test whether Labour’s plans to reinstate the 50p tax rate is having the apocalyptic effect that the Tories like to claim. How many of these starlets who are signing in and around the country will refuse to sign up for anything beyond six months for fear of the “war on the better off”, as the Telegraph’s Allister Heath describes a 5 per cent increase in taxation?

One of the big debates over the 50p rate is around the behavioural response it is claimed it creates. Of course there will be those who do choose a country by the lowest marginal tax rate, whether it is 45 per cent or 25 per cent. But the government argues that the behavioural response of such high-paid people coming to our country, and those already working here, would be huge. However, this argument relies on few facts and instead anecdotal evidence – a bit like rumours on Transfer Deadline Day.

Nevertheless, it does not stop there. As according to George Osborne’s logic since April 2012, players such as Wayne Rooney have been playing better, and working harder for their clubs. In fact, we should probably be thanking George Osborne (a Chelsea fan) for the excellent performance of the England team in the World Cup…

This is because the other plank of rightwingers' use of the behavioural argument by which Osborne axed the 50p rate is rarely disputed: that the rich work harder when taxed less. And to be fair, Rooney and other footballers earning over £1,000,000 a year (if we assume they declare this as income) may have indeed been training harder. But would it be because such a millionaire footballer has had an additional £700 a week more added to their current minimum of £20,000 a week?

Don’t get me wrong, £700 is a lot of money to me and most people. But to put it in perspective, that is the equivalent of the median earner who receives £517 a week (£26,800 a year) getting around an extra 18 quid a week more. Again not to be sniffed at, but not even enough for a Wayne Rooney hair appointment.

But would an £18 a week pay rise (or an increase in your wage by a 1/28) considerably raise the work rate of most people? I would hazard a guess that it probably would not in general. For example, would you work longer hours, such as an extra three hours a week, for a marginal pay rise of say £18, or would you be happy to get away at lunchtime on a Friday even if that meant you’d lose £18?

This is of course a relative question, given that those on middle and low incomes are more effected by other taxes such as VAT, than the average Premiership footballer. But surveys have shown that most people would rather work fewer hours even if this led to marginally lower pay. Shouldn’t we assume therefore that top millionaires are no different? Especially when you consider the proportions in pay they are dealing with.

So even if you are not interested in football nor footballers, you should still pay attention to this Transfer Deadline Day, and the whereabouts of Falcao, as it’ll be a prelude to one of the biggest arguments on taxation at the general election.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump