The IMF Proposes A 10% Supertax On All Eurozone Household Savings
This is a story that should raise an eyebrow or two on every single face in Europe, and beyond. I saw the first bits of it on a Belgian site named Express.be, whose writers in turn had stumbled upon an article in French newspaper Le Figaro, whose writer Jean-Pierre Robin had leafed through a brand new IMF report (yes, there are certain linguistic advantages in being Dutch, Canadian AND Québecois). In the report, the IMF talks about a proposal to tax everybody’s savings, in the Eurozone. Looks like they just need to figure out by how much.The IMF, I’m following Mr. Robin here, addresses the issue of the sustainability of the debt levels of developed nations, Europe, US, Japan, which today are on average 110% of GDP, or 35% more than in 2007. Such debt levels are unprecedented, other than right after the world wars. So, the Fund reasons, it’s time for radical solutions.The IMF refers to a few studies, like one from 1990 by Barry Eichengreen on historical precedents, one from April 2013 by Saxo Bank chief economist Steen Jakobsen, who saw a 10% general asset tax as needed to repair government debt levels, and one by German economist Stefan Bach, who concluded that if all Germans owning more than €250,000, representing €2.95 trillion in wealth, were “supertaxed” on their assets at a 3.4% rate, the government could collect €100 billion, or 4% of GDP.French investor site monfinancier.com talks about people close to the Elysée government discussing how a 17% supertax on all French savings over €100,000 would clear all government debt. The site is not the only voice to mention that raising “normal” taxes on either individuals or corporations is no longer viable, since it would risk plunging various economies into recession or depression.Here’s what the October 2013 IMF report, entitled Fiscal Monitor : Taxing Times, literally says on the topic, in the chapter called:Taxing Our Way Out Of – Or Into? – Trouble
The sharp deterioration of the public finances in many countries has revived interest in a capital levy, a one-off tax on private wealth, as an exceptional measure to restore debt sustainability. (1) The appeal is that such a tax, if it is implemented before avoidance is possible, and there is a belief that it will never be repeated, does not distort behavior (and may be seen by some as fair).There have been illustrious supporters, including Pigou, Ricardo, Schumpeter, and, until he changed his mind, Keynes. The conditions for success are strong, but also need to be weighed against the risks of the alternatives, which include repudiating public debt or inflating it away (these, in turn, are a particular form of wealth tax on bondholders that also falls on non-residents).It should probably be obvious that there is one key sentence here, one which explains why the IMF is seriously considering the capital levy (supertax) option, even if it’s presented as hypothetical:The appeal is that such a tax, if it is implemented before avoidance is possible, and there is a belief that it will never be repeated, does not distort behavior (and may be seen by some as fair).It all hangs on the IMF’s notion – or hope – that it can be implemented by stealth, before people have the chance to put their money somewhere else (and let’s assume they’re not thinking of digging in backyards, and leave tax havens alone for now). Also, that after the initial blow, people will accept the tax because they are confident it’s a one-time only thing. And finally, that a sense of justice will prevail among a population, a substantial part of whom will have little, if anything, left to tax.
Will more countries introduce capital controls or asset confiscations in the next few years? Duh, of course. Debt levels are unmanageable, so they have to be lowered. And there are only three ways to do it: deflationary collapse that wipes out the debt through default, inflation that wipes out the debt by destroying the world’s major currencies, or stealing enough private sector wealth to reset the clock. Option one – depression – is political poison so will be avoided at all costs. Option two is being tried and is failing because the deflationary effect of trillions of dollars of bad debt more or less equals the inflationary impact of trillions of dollars of new currency.